Fifteen people gathered on Monday, June 15, to participate in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Sessions Retreat, held as part of the 2015 CBF General Assembly. We came together from different spaces and places spanning from Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Puerto Rico with the common purpose of discussing Mental Illness and poverty.
Our group spent Tuesday engaging with different speakers who have knowledge and experience walking alongside and empowering people with Mental Illness. Through listening to stories told and information given, the gaping holes in the mental health care system were brought to the surface. Each speaker ignited questions in the listeners and provided many resources for further study.
The Well, a ministry of Cliff Temple Baptist Church, focuses on people with mental illness through providing an empowering and safe environment for its members. On Wednesday the Sessions group prepared lunch for and engaged with the members of The Well by playing Bingo, building relationships, and affirming the gifts and abilities of all who were present.
Through the course of Sessions students learned that mental illness does not discriminate based on age, race, or socioeconomic status but that people who live at or below the poverty line suffer more frequently from mental illness because of the lack of knowledge of resources available to them. As current and future ministers this was a valuable time to confront a topic that is often stigmatized as something to be ashamed of when in reality mental illness is a conversation that congregations need to have.
Mental Illness is also known as the “Non-Casserole disease.” When a person is in the hospital with physical ailment, members of the community band together to take meals to the family as a show of support in a time of trial. When a family member suffers from a mental illness and requires a stay at the nearest psychiatric ward, the doorbell is noticeably silent. Why is that?
To quote Elyn Saks (TED Talk video, “A Tale of Mental Illness from the Inside”), “The humanity that we share is greater than the mental illness we do not.” It was at Dallas Sessions that we learned the truth that people with mental illness are not problems to be corrected, but people to be loved. This is a mission field that is open and ready to be explored.