World Mental Health Day

God of Compassion,
You meant us to be both fragile and ordinary.
Silence the voices that say we are not good enough,
Haven’t achieved enough,
Haven’t enough to show for our lives,
That we are not enough.
Help us to know that we are treasure,
We are prized,
We are cherished,
We are loved.
Infinitely.
By you.
So be with us in our corrugations of feeling:
When our hearts are in downward freefall, be with us
When our minds race with anxiety, be with us
When our throats close in fear, be with us
When sleep will not come, be with us
When waking hurts, be with us.
In the name of Jesus,
Who knew trauma, abuse, despair and abandonment
And has nothing but love for us,
Amen.

(by Alison Webster)


World Mental Healthy Day, on Tuesday 10th October, is a great opportunity to highlight work around mental health and the lives and experiences of those suffering from mental ill health. Organised by the World Health Organisation, the hope is that in raising awareness ‘more can be done to make mental health care a reality for people across the world.’[1]

We would love to see churches within the Diocese get involved in supporting this initiative, perhaps by offering this prayer during a service on Sunday 8th October or Sunday 15th October.

We know that many churches are already active in caring for those within and beyond the church who are affected by mental ill health. In September, we saw thirty Christians involved in this work gather together to spend a day listening to the stories of those affected and to consider their own church’s response.

Dr Rachel Freeth led the training day, explaining the limitations of mental health services and emphasizing the valuable role churches can play in complementing their work. She explained that often those in significant distress may not be in the care of mental health services, perhaps due to lack of resources or because they choose not to engage. Some people prefer to rely on community groups or clergy as their primary source of support.

Those who do access mental health services will still confront serious limitations in terms of what those services can offer. This is because both the culture and purpose of these services limit what they can do. For example, mental health services will tend to focus on a diagnosis rather than the ‘person’. This emphasis on a cure or treatment, together with the need to assess and manage risk conservatively, can build barriers between health professionals and patients.

Spiritual or religious dimensions to patients’ lives and mental illness may also be misunderstood by doctors or support workers. Overall, an increasing fragmentation of health services can mean mental health patients are ‘passed around’ and there is an absence of holistic care. In this context, ‘the primary gift that the church has to offer is the creation of a graceful space for meeting within which the possibility of listening, understanding, friendship, belonging and tenderness becomes real.’[2]

In Cowley deanery, St Mary’s and St John’s Church are already seeking to be this ‘graceful space’. Every year on the Sunday closest to World Mental Health Day the church uses prayers, hymns and readings chosen by people with direct experience of mental health services. This year their focus is on depression.

During the week the church also hosts a regular ‘Alice’s Tea Party’ event for those dealing with mental health issues. On Tuesday 10th, this will be expanded, offering a free all day event with singing, drama, poetry and art in celebration of World Mental Health Day.[3] All are welcome.

If your church is involved in mental health initiatives we’d love to hear from you and share your story or event.

Email bethan.willis@oxford.anglican.org


[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day

[2] Inclusive Church Handbook on Mental Health quoted by Rachel Freeth September 2017. https://inclusive-church.org/mental-health

[3] This event will take place on Tuesday 10th October from 10.30am – 3pm at Richard Benson Hall, 271 Cowley Road, OX4 1UR. Contact Alice for more details on 0789 5576 398.