blogathon: mental health support in churches

in my announcement of this blogathon last week, i mentioned marja bergen, the founder of the living room, a church-based support group for people with mood disorders. let me give you a few excerpts from her new book, a firm place to stand, where she describes the birth of the living room.  marja’s experience stands in interesting contrast to that of the author about whom i wrote in an earlier post today, where mental illness was met with ignorance and much talk of the devil.

god gave me an idea that wouldn’t stay quiet. i wanted to start a faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. i knew there was a need. several people in my church, including me, could use a place to talk about their struggles. secular support groups were readily available, but participants to not always feel comfortable talking about god. for those who believe in jesus, discussing faith issues is important in dealing with emotional problems.

don dyck, our pastor, liked the idea, and we set the wheels in motion. the process took time. where would we meet? how would we let people know about it? would it be for our church alone, or would we advertise in the community? what would a meeting look like? who would facilitate the group?

the last person i thought of to lead the group was me. i could not see myself doing anything like that. yet, as our plans proceeded, i received the courage to take charge of the project and decided i would try facilitating.

we called the group living room, a name coined by dr. john toews, psychiatrist and author of no longer alone: mental health and the church. dr. toews is a proponent of better church support for people with mental illness and helped inspire the organization of our group.

living group became an outreach project in partnership with the mood disorders association of BC, also known as MDA, a secular organization that trained us how to facilitate. pastor don would not let me start without a co-facilitator. we found janice, a great support for me and someone i could not do without.

relationships built on authentic sharing of our vulnerabilities become strong. because we have all suffered, we have compassion for each other. we share the same langue. when the participants believe in god and talk about how god works in their lives, the strength of our bond grows. not only do we share similar emotional problems, we encourage each others’ faith. we share god’s love with each other.

an amazing thing happened to me as a result of leading these meetings. though we talk about sad things, i feel quite uplifted when i go home, emotionally and spiritually. after meetings, i pray, thanking god for this gift. it is hard to describe the joy i have found in this work.

my desire to give support rather than always being on the receiving end has been met in the living room. i am helping others deal with their problems. to give is to receive. the more support i give, the less i need to go to others for help. i feel stronger, happier and more whole than i ever have before. when i think back to the needy person i used to be, i am amazed where god has taken me.

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

2 thoughts on “blogathon: mental health support in churches

  1. ClinicallyClueless

    This was great and a good example of what can take place in a church, the whole key is having a pastor who will support it and having willing leaders and participants. The leaders do require some specialized skills. I know this exists in different form in other churches, sometimes with no stigma and other times with stigma.

    At my church, years ago another person and I started, “The Father’s Heart Ministry.” It included one-to-one individual support (active listening), adult Sunday school and a support group. Our problem was people stopped participating.

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