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NAMI FaithNet Newsletter: July 2011

In This Issue:

  • Church, Society Still Lag in Help, Welcome to Those with Mental Illness
  • Reaching out to Faith Communities: A New Resource for Faith Outreach
  • Diverse Religions and Spiritual Perspectives: A NAMI Star Center Teleconference

Church, Society Still Lag in Help, Welcome to Those with Mental Illness

Deacon Tom Lambert wants people to know that Jared Lee Loughner, charged with killing six people and wounding 13 others in the parking lot of a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket in January, "is not the face of mental illness in this country."

Those with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than its perpetrators, and the vast majority live and work quietly in their communities, trained by society not to share too much information about their struggles.

Deacon Lambert calls mental illness a "no-casserole disease." When his wife had open-heart surgery 25 years ago, "the doorbell never stopped ringing" and he discovered more ways to cook chicken than he ever knew existed. But when his daughter was hospitalized for mental illness 20 years ago, he said, "no one came to the door."

He also found during those dark days two decades ago that "the church leadership knew very little about mental illness" and there was nothing in place to help those with mental illness or their families. So Deacon Lambert and his wife set about establishing a Commission on Mental Illness in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which eventually became part of the archdiocesan Office for Persons with Disabilities, albeit without any church funding.

"And that's the way it exists to this day," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from his office at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Chicago's Near North Side. "I call it an unfunded Gospel mandate."


Reaching out to Faith Communities: A New Resource for Faith Outreach

Reaching Out to Faith Communities, a four-part training tool provided by NAMI FaithNet, is a new educational resource to help with outreach to faith communities offered through NAMI.

The goal of Reaching Out to Faith Communities is to better equip NAMI members and leaders to build bridges with local faith groups. The content was written in response to common questions including: Why should we reach out to faith communities? How do we handle differing views of mental illness or stigmatizing remarks? How do I get started?

The long-range goal of NAMI FaithNet outreach is to promote supportive faith communities where awareness, welcome, inclusion, support and spiritual care for individuals and families facing mental illness is provided. With the guidance of the NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group, NAMI FaithNet strives to promote the development of caring faith communities, the value of one's spirituality in the recovery process for individuals and caregivers, education for clergy and faith communities concerning mental illness and the encouragement of advocacy within the faith community to embrace all who are affected by mental illness.

NAMI FaithNet is not a religious network but rather an outreach to all faith communities. NAMI FaithNet respects all religious and spiritual beliefs. It also recognizes the expression by the majority of those affected by mental illness of the importance of the role of their spirituality in their ability to cope with having one of these illnesses themselves or in caring for an ill friend or family member.

NAMI FaithNet encourages all members of faith communities who are affected by a mental illness to talk to their clergy person about mental illness and the role their faith is playing in their lives.

To assist with this effort, and to aid NAMI Affiliates with their faith outreach efforts, Reaching Out to Faith Communities exists to promote success.

The Four Parts of Reaching out to Faith Communities

  • Laying the Foundation: provides basic information about NAMI FaithNet, its interfaith dialogue approach and religious diversity. This section also explains the value of outreach to faith groups and the community impact of untreated mental illness.
  • Opening the Door: explores the impact of mental illness on individuals and what basic spiritual care encompasses. Suggestions are offered for starting informal conversations with people of faith and ways to build advocacy, awareness and support within a faith community.
  • Sharing Your Story: provides training for those who want to more effectively tell their story about mental illness and the role of NAMI and the faith community in the journey toward recovery.
  • Looking Ahead and Following Up: offers tips on the team approach and how to respond to stigmatizing remarks, differing beliefs and other challenges unique to faith community outreach.

Reaching Out to Faith Communities is in Microsoft PowerPoint format and may be used either as a self-study tool or as a group study project. It is available, along with other tools and resources, on the NAMI FaithNet website.

Diverse Religions and Spiritual Perspectives: A NAMI Star Center Teleconference Event

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions."
--Rainer Marie Rilke

On May 4, 2011, the NAMI STAR Center presented Diverse Religious and Spiritual Perspectives on Mental Distress/Illness, Mental Wellness, and Healing. The teleconference began with some questions: How is the experience of mental or emotional distress, commonly called "mental illness" by some, understood from diverse religious and spiritual perspectives? What can we learn from these perspectives about mental wellness and the healing process? How may cultural competence, social inclusion, diversity and self-help and program/service practices be enhanced for greater effectiveness?

Rev. Laura Mancuso facilitated the discussion and introduced three speakers; Bob Manrodt, a Tibetan Buddhist assisting individuals who live with mental illness in community and inpatient settings to connect with their spirituality; Eduardo Luna, an indigenous shaman from Ecuador; and Rev. Dr. Jasper Lowery, a Christian pastor leading a ministry to serve people living on the streets of Oakland, Calif.

Each presenter highlighted important aspects of spiritual experience from a different point of view. The Buddhist perspective encouraged compassion and understanding that supports the unfolding and integration of that experience and process before being too quick to stop it, stifle it, label it or "treat" the person who could be going through a transformational journey that changes challenges into new wisdom. The Christian perspective encouraged care for one's neighbor born from love that seeks to address all of the complex needs that individuals living with mental health issues bring to that encounter. The shamanic perspective encouraged the cultivation of creativity, innocence and power that is seen to run through all things.

A common thread woven through all of the comments was the belief and assumption that recovery from mental health issues and challenges is possible, that each person has the power to make his or her own meaning from different experiences and that recovery and wellness can involve all kinds of approaches, options and inclusive resources--from meditation to being in nature to engaging in spiritual practices and feeling connected to a power or source beyond one's own making, which can be of tremendous importance in recovery. The implications for personal and program practices and changes were highlighted to help integrate the insights from the session.

When examining the rich possibilities for mental health and spirituality, many questions may indeed come to mind. As Rev. Mancuso said at the end of the session when quoting the poet Rainer Marie Rilke, how can you live these important questions?

To listen to a recording of the teleconference, visit the NAMI Star Center's teleconference archive.

Stephen Kiosk, M.Div., L.P.C., is the director of the NAMI STAR Center, a SAMHSA-funded technical assistance center focused on cultural competence and self-help tools for recovery and wellness. Steve is an ordained priest with rich experiences and training in mind-body medicine, substance use counseling, guided imagery and meditation. He has collaborated extensively with diverse individuals and communities across the country.

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