A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race
January 2021    
Volume 11, #1

Candle burning in holder with "Let your light shine" Matthew 5:16 on it
of the
United Methodist
 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ! 

Welcome to the premier edition of The Voice, Mental Health Edition written by the new Mental Health Task Force, a subcommittee of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church. 

The United Methodist Mental Health Task Force’s mission is to promote mental health and empower persons living with mental illness for full inclusion within all levels of the church and society through a network of communication, education, program development, advocacy and support

The Task Force held our first monthly meeting in April 2020. All of us are passionate about the need for people with mental illnesses to be included as full participants in the United Methodist Church. Most of us have experienced some type of mental illness in our own lives, either personally or within our families.

While other United Methodist boards and agencies, including the General Board of Church and Society and Discipleship Ministries, have published mental health resources from time to time, this Task Force is the first dedicated solely to mental health. 

Our first project addresses the awareness and information needs of many UM entities, from Cabinets to Boards of Ordained Ministry to Staff-Parish Relations chairs and more. If you serve the UMC in a leadership position, please watch for information coming soon from the Mental Health Task Force!

This first quarterly Mental Health-focused newsletter is our second project. The Task Force is excited and so is the entire DisAbility Ministries Committee! Look for the second issue in April. You will continue to receive the disability-focused newsletter every other issue, assuring you and your congregation of increased access to resources for disability awareness and ministry.

For more information, check out the Mental Health page of the DisAbility Ministries website. You can contact us at information (at) umcdmc.org. Please put “Mental Health” in the subject line.

Yours in service to Christ,

Deaconess Sharon McCart
Chair, United Methodist Mental Health Task Force

Navigating Mental Health Amidst a Pandemic

Look for the Thorn (PTSD)

How to Prevent Suicide
Navigating Mental Health Amidst a Pandemic
Woman looking out from facility window at balloons and family members
Living through a pandemic with hardly an end in sight can invade the mental capacities of even the person with the healthiest mind, body and spirit. COVID-19 is essentially a worldwide nightmare. This is a collective phenomenon, albeit our emotions and responses may stem from different experiences and circumstances such as:
  • Isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Sickness
  • Financial instability
  • Job loss
  • Overwork (healthcare and other essential workers)
  • Uncertainty
  • On-line learning and its effects on parents
  • Increased drug and alcohol use/abuse/addiction and more… 

The underlying conundrum is managing the draining emotions that come with these difficult experiences. Being isolated and separated from others can become debilitating, especially for older adults. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social support networks can have significant positive effects on health. Many researchers believe relationships are a biological need, vital to our well-being and survival.1 Although loneliness and isolation have always existed, this pandemic has amplified the isolated population to staggering numbers of persons of all ages, not just those who are retired. Isolation in turn increases risk of mental illness. 

We are witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, rising well beyond the peak levels of early spring 2020. Combined with the holidays and uncertainty of 2021 this spike creates a recipe for exacerbation of symptoms for people who live and struggle with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia and other disorders fueled by the above stressors and managing one’s illness. Additionally, there are increased mental health issues in people who never or rarely struggled with anxiety, depression, drug abuse or addiction. There’s a common thread that affects us all. 
Woman holding cat stands looking out her window
Hearts ache for the often-marginalized people who live daily with long-term mental illness and their families who support them. As Christians, the “Church” need not congregate in a building to help each other in safe ways during this pandemic. Indeed, we can crank up our prayer life for divine intervention to provide comfort, hope, guidance and healing. We can calm ourselves, stay safe and help one another through practices including:

  • Pray and meditate; practice deep breathing while praying or holding healthy peaceful intentions
  • Serve others; write to isolated people: local nursing homes can provide first name and room numbers. Write an old-fashioned letter to a resident and you may gain a pen pal!
  • Participate in little acts of kindness to strangers; pay it forward when kindness happens to you. 
  • Embrace technology: FaceTime, Skype, ZOOM; join social media groups of people with like minds; use tools including the low-tech telephone to connect with family and friends; ask a younger generation to help if needed.
  • Take care of yourself: take your meds, see your doctor, social distance, and wear your mask!

There is some good news! According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the FY 2021 federal budget has COVID-relief line items. It includes provisions such as community mental health grants and transportation for health appointments to benefit people with mental health conditions.  

It’s time for the “Church” to step up, squash the divides and help one another through these difficult days: Pray, Serve, Love and look out for those who are hurting…. physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. BE the church. BE the hands and feet of Christ. Lord, in your mercy. 

Contributed by Rev. Tiffanie Z. Lyon, MBA, MDiv, 
UMC Hospital Chaplain and Pastor; Louisiana Conference
.Look for the Thorn!
Three thorny barberry bush twigs and a tweezer on a green background
After my year as an Army Chaplain in Vietnam, I have kept in touch with other veterans and that means learning a lot about PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans actually don’t like the title PTSD because while it can disorder our lives with emotional numbness, unresolved anger, re-experienced trauma and hypervigilance, it is not a mental illness but a mental wound. It’s not caused by a virus or a chemical imbalance; it’s a normal human response to an abnormal life situation. Psychiatry has specified criteria for determining if one has PTSD, but a far larger number of us are trauma survivors.

        The medical model seems to suggest that any mental or emotional issue we have is within us and therefore fixing the problem means fixing something broken inside us. There are alternative models, however, which are relational. 

   One of the puzzles of PTSD is noting that two soldiers may be in what appears to be a similar combat situation, and one develops PTSD, while another does not. What makes the difference? A common element often found in those who have been traumatized is a sense of having been betrayed. In combat it may be the nearby soldier who let you down or the commander who gave a bad command, and people died. Outside of combat it may be rape by someone you trusted or growing up in a dangerous community where others let you down. The common thread can be summarized in the experienced feeling “Life was not supposed to be this way.” When put that way, trauma is a spiritual as well as psychological wound: it is not just the human we trusted who let us down, but God who has let us down.

        The psalmist captures some sense of the impact of betrayal: “It is not enemies who taunt me – I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me – I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.” (Psalm 55:12-13)     
Risking Connection name and logo of overlapping circles  between others of descending size
Because of the involvement of betrayal, psychological trauma is a relational wound, and healing requires relationships. The authors of the Risking Connection series of training manuals have captured the essence of healing relationships – they are RICH relationships, where RICH stands for Respect, Information, Connection and Hope. A trauma-sensitive church should be a place where one can find and develop RICH relationships.

        One of my favorite early church stories is that of Androcles and the lion. Androcles was a Roman soldier. One day some villagers approached him and said, “there is a lion roaring in the forest near us and we are terrified. Can you do something about it?” Androcles slipped into the forest and soon he could hear the lion. Gathering up his courage, he got closer as the roaring got louder. Finally, he could see the lion. He got even closer, and dialing his courage up to 10, approached the lion. He saw there was a thorn in the lion’s paw, and with his last ounce of courage pulled out the thorn. The roaring stopped.

        The story has a part two. Years later Androcles had become a Christian and was arrested for his faith. One day he was hauled into the center of the Colosseum to provide entertainment as a lion was released to torment him. The lion bounded to the center, ready to tear him apart, limb from limb, then stopped, lay down at Androcles' feet, and began purring. It was the same lion.
A thorny barberry bush branch
        One of the greatest ministries any of us can offer another is to listen to their pain and anger.

        When you hear the lion roar, look for the thorn!

Contributed by Rev. Jack Day, D. Min, MPH, one of the authors of “Risking Connection in Faith Communities: A Training Curriculum for Faith Leaders Supporting Trauma Survivors” who is currently interim pastor, St. John's UMC, Baltimore-Washington Conference.
How To Prevent Suicide.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and information in sticker format with green border
Congregations need to know that COVID-19 has hit the list of suicide risk factors due to components such as isolation, anxiety, money issues, and the fear of dying alone. According to the CDC other risk factors including a family history of suicide attempts or of child abuse, a previous attempt, a recent loss, easy access to lethal means, history of mental health issues (especially depression) alcohol and/or drug use, hopelessness and impulsiveness/ aggressiveness.  

Per Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), for separate reasons several populations tend to be at higher risk. These include persons with lived experience of mental illness, teens, veterans, LGBT, disaster survivors, and young Native American men. Eighty percent of all persons who die by suicide in the US are men and women between the ages of 45-54. The risk increases for white men age 65 and older and the highest risk is for elderly white men 85 and older, with complicating factors including relationship loss, history of violence, and access to lethal means. 

There are relatively simple yet very important things we can do to help.

As individuals:

1. Be a trusted person to talk to. If someone is dealing with the above issues, they may need an extra phone/Zoom call to check in. We know our own community and this knowledge is as important as the above list of risk factors.

2. Ask when you see someone struggling. The most powerful deterrent to suicide is to simply ask the person directly, “Are you thinking of committing suicide?” We may think that that to ask a person will make them think about it but that has been shown to be not true. The direct question is the easiest way.  

3. Know that help is available. Call (or help that person to call) the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text ‘273TALK’ to 839863. (In español 888-628-9454.)

4. If you are not having suicidal thoughts but struggling, seek out a pastor with mental health training or a mental health professional for counseling. We all need help at times. If you are a friend, encourage the person to do this. All counselors are working virtually these days and insurance companies are paying for that service.

As churches:

5. Ask the worship committee and/or pastor about doing a worship service in which suicide is mentioned specifically, perhaps as part of a pastoral prayer or a service on mental health issues. People often feel that they can talk about suicide when they hear it discussed in worship.

6. Explore resources and consider hosting support groups. NAMI/ NAMI FaithNet is a wonderful organization that offers virtual support groups for persons with mental illness and their family members. To contact the NAMI HelpLine for peer support, please call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or send an email to info (at) nami.org.

7. Share and use Mental Health Ministries information such as their Suicide Resources which include liturgies, DVDs and videos, bulletin inserts, and publications.

Where does the UMC stand on suicide?

United Methodist doctrine does not classify suicide as an unforgiveable sin. The Social Principles (Paragraph 161-O) read, “We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering.” The Social Principles call the UMC to become educated about ways to care for persons at risk of suicide and remind us that, “A Christian perspective on suicide begins with the affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39).”

Contributed by Vickie Johnson LCSW, MDiv, Oregon-Idaho conference 

As always, we welcome your input and feedback. We hope you gained some insights from these authors. For future issues, what information would you like to read about? What are your concerns about accessibility or inclusive ministries? Does your congregation have a disability or mental health ministry you would like to share with all of us? Please contact us at our committee e-mail address and let us know.

Deaconess Lynn Swedberg, editor

DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church