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Parts of a talk given by the Revd Anne McCormick during a recent Lent

Mental Health

I sit with a lady in her late 80’s holding her hand as she trembles with anxiety, and her gaze is drawn to the gentleman with dementia who is rearranging the furniture.  “I’m not a bad person,” she says, and I respond “of course you aren’t”.  “I keep my home tidy, and I’ve always done everything for myself; I’m not a bad person”.
  Such is the stigma of mental health.  She takes comfort in the fact a priest is telling her she isn’t bad, but something of the experience of having police come to her home with doctors has left its mark, something of our cultural expectations that label people ‘mental’, ‘looney’, ‘demented’, ‘crazy’.
She is lonely and fearful of life, and, after caring for others her whole life, she thinks she is a problem.

Unlike Maria in the Sound of Music who sings “somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good”, this lady explains what is happening to her as “I must have done something bad to have this anxiety”.

  My role here is of calm reassurance.  In such an unfamiliar place I try to create a bridge with what is familiar, with what has been good

We talk about her husband and we talk about holidays, and for a little while the shaking stops as she recollects her honeymoon. Another lady chips in and they have begun to find something in common, something shared that will continue after I have finished my visit.  A small part in the bigger picture of medicines, psychotherapy, and housing and community care teams.

I have played a small part in helping her remember who she is, what she values, and that she herself is of value.  ‘Good news’, although we have not mentioned God’s name once in our conversation.
  It lies at the heart of my job to remind others that those with mental health conditions are people (people with a bipolar disorder, people with anxiety, and so on).  They are a person first who has a mental health condition.  The condition does not define them; it is not the total sum of them.  Even the most difficult person who spits and shouts and lashes out is still a person. Kindness and care for the individual goes a long way. When Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac, he does not make his healing a spectacle but takes him aside, asks his name, has him unbound, and sends him back into his community. He deals with the person.