A Purpose-Driven Lunch to Reduce the Stigma Behind Mental Health
“I have struggled with depression my entire life.”
“People have tried to pray over my mental health issues so that I can be healed. It hasn’t happened yet.”
“My brother served in the military. He struggled with PTSD and later took his life.”
As we went around the table and did introductions, we shared our name and organization, but each person followed Kay’s lead and went deeper.
“I’m Kay Warren. My husband Rick is the pastor of Saddleback Church and two years ago, we lost our son, Matthew. He took his life after a life-long struggle with mental illness.”
We shared how mental health touched our lives, our families and our friends. I was humbled by the openness surrounding me. I shared, “Mei Ling, wife, mom and writer with Risen Magazine. When I was in full-time ministry with youth, I never felt fully equipped to help teens with depression, anxiety, cutting and suicidal thoughts.”
Each of us had been invited to the table to be a part of the solution. After Rick and Kay lost their son, they have become passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. They started The Gathering on Mental Health, a conference where individuals with mental health struggles can get help and pastors and ministry leaders can get training. Kay invited us to the luncheon to share her heart but also to ask us to use our media platforms to help shed light on mental health and invite others to the conference.
The reality is that EVERYONE knows SOMEONE who has a mental illness. As a former youth ministry worker, I was blown away by how it affects the youth. Kay shared some sobering statistics:
- Half of all adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
- Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.
- One in five children will have a mental illness by age 18.
- Ninety percent of people who die by suicide also had mental illness.
With sixty million Americans that means one in five adults will experience a mental illness in the coming year. That means every one of us knows someone who is living with a mental illness like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and some additionally have a substance abuse.
Because each of us at the luncheon was impacted by mental health, we were eager to support Rick and Kay. While this year was only the second year of the conference, they hope to make it an annual event. It was held at Saddleback Church but was also streamed live online because the Warrens wanted to make the training accessible to everyone. We encouraged our Risen readers to tune in. Don’t worry if you missed it, the messages are still available to watch.
The conference speakers ranged from politicians including Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy; former California State Senator Darrell Steinberg; U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to people who struggled with mental health and were sharing their stories including Dave Mandani and Sheila Walsh.
As a journalist, my favorite speaker was Sheila. She was a reporter with the BBC and later the Christian Broadcast Network. She went through some traumatic events as a child that she never really dealt with. One day as a 34-year-old, she was interviewing a guest and the guest turned the tables on her and asked her how she was doing. She broke down and cried on live television. She left the station and went to go get help. She checked into a psych ward. She now uses that experience to share with others. Her story demonstrated to me the power of a the question, “How are you doing?”
I am not a professional counselor, nor do I want to be one. Each of us has the ability to ask people around us how they are doing. After we ask that question, each of us has a choice, will we sit and genuinely listen to the person or will we keep it at a surface level and hurry on to our next order of the day. By asking that question, we have the ability to be a catalyst in a person’s life. We can encourage them to get professional help. We can go with them to a doctor’s appointment or therapy.
For others of us, we need to be like Sheila and have a moment of vulnerability. When the question of “How are you doing?” is asked, it is time to start being real. You don’t have to have all the answers or a solution. You just have to admit you aren’t doing okay and would like to get help. There are people who care about you and want to come alongside you.
One of the other things that stuck with me was when Rick Warren shared, “Mental health is complex. It may not be solve-able, but it is serve-able.” So many of us want there to be a solution, a quick-fix or a pill that will solve it all, but the reality is that there are many aspects to mental health. Part of my nature is that I want to fix everything so Rick helped me to shift my perspective and it gives me the freedom to start small. I don’t have to feel like I am not doing anything just because I am not overseeing a ministry to those with mental health. Rather, I can serve in the opportunities that are placed in front of me like listening to a friend or taking someone to their therapy appointment. It is freeing to know that I don’t have to have all the answers, nor do I need to do everything in order to help a friend or family member with their mental health illness.
I look forward to seeing what God is going to do as people respond to those around them that need help.
Saddleback Church has created a resource guide to connect you with other groups and organizations. Downloadable Resource Guide
NAMI-National Alliance on Mental Health-has local chapters with support groups.
Celebrate Recovery-A faith-based 12 step program with 27,000 local chapters
This list is not exhaustive. There are lots of great resources out there.