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Breaking the Silence

[caption id="attachment_4196" align="alignright" width="200"] Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA[/caption]

Speaking the Truth

Silence hurts. Keeping silent about a concern can be a burden that robs us of the opportunity to connect with others and to "speak the truth in a million voices [because] it is silence that kills." This quote is from St. Catherine of Siena and speaks powerfully of the need to address the elephant in the room. In Galatians 6:2, we are encouraged to "carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ." Many of us carry concerns that we hide from others, perhaps because it is more comfortable to do so. We may fear being judged or not being understood. Our challenge, however, is to be a voice in the darkness, breaking the silence that may enshroud us, allowing God to work through us for the good of all whose lives we touch and whose lives touch us.

Talking About Mental Illness

After attending a presentation recently on breaking the silence about mental illness in families and churches, I found myself reflecting on my own silence about this disease. The speaker, Sarah Griffith Lund, an ordained minister, shared her own personal stories of fear, shame, and pain in growing up with a father who suffered from bipolar disorder and with a brother and a spouse who both struggle with mental illness. For many years, she kept this secret hidden from her church family. Because many church members and church leaders expect ministers to have it all together, Sarah was afraid of being deemed unworthy to serve as a minister if she disclosed her family's history and struggle with mental illness. Only in recent years has she found the courage to break this silence about mental illness in families, challenging churches to be a place of healing and hope for people who have a brain disease and their loved ones.

Sharing Our Stories

Sarah shares her struggle in dealing with mental illness in the family and church in her book, Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church. She writes, "This testimony is for anybody who has ever wondered how God can use craziness to teach us about the depths of human and divine love." By sharing her stories, Sarah gives us the courage to share our stories and to begin dialoguing about how we can support each other.

Living with the Mentally Ill

In my own growing up years, I can remember having to keep the "family secret" about a parent who suffered from "emotional problems." As a stepparent, I experienced the roller-coaster ride of dealing with two teenagers with emotional, social and behavioral problems, stemming in part from the frustration they experienced with a mother who had an untreated mental illness. Then later in life, one of my sisters was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I didn't want to believe this diagnosis was true. Although I have felt sad, angry, and concerned about family members who have to struggle with this disease, it is not always easy to be patient, compassionate and understanding with the manifestations of the disease. It is hard to say but it can be difficult to love someone with a mental illness out of shame, confusion and anger over being helpless to make the "problem" go away. What exacerbates the problem is feeling that the illness must be kept secret because many of us are uncomfortable with a person with mental illness. Such silence though is not healthy for the sufferer or those of us who care for a family member or friend with mental illness. We need to remember that mental illness is a disease and we need to treat the person with the disease with the same respect and dignity we give to those with any other disease.

Advocacy Breaks the Silence

When I was younger, I did not understand or appreciate the struggle that mental illness has on the sufferer; I was focused primarily on how I was suffering from the effects of such a disease. Now, as an adult, I hope I have more compassion and understanding for those I love who have this illness. I hope I can be a voice of advocacy and support and break the silence that keeps so many hiding in shame. For we are all children of God and we need to challenge our churches to be voices of advocacy and places for support, healing, and compassion for the mentally ill and their loved ones.

Become a Voice for Healing

Are you ready to be a voice that breaks the silence of suffering in this world, proclaiming the truth without fear, thus, opening the door to healing for many? If so, I encourage you to contact one of our Vocation Ministers to explore a calling to religious life.

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