At the Irish Council of Churches I feel we are uniquely placed to encourage the networking and sharing of ideas and resources across our member churches and beyond. Recently I have had the privilege of attending some excellent events run by our member churches and partner organisations on mental health.
On 26th April, the Church of Ireland Church and Society Commission held a Mental Health Seminar which focussed on peri–natal mental health and, specifically, post–natal depression. (Peri–natal mental health refers to a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and the first year after birth).
The seminar was to raise awareness around peri–natal mental health and actively encourage churches to talk about mental health, making it easier for those suffering in silence to speak out and get help. Inputs from Rev Dr Pat Mollan, Director of the Church of Ireland Ministry of Healing and Dr John Kyle, a local GP, gave helpful insights into supporting those who are suffering with peri–natal mental ill–heath as well as information on the symptoms of, and contributing factors to, Post–Natal Depression.
Lindsay Robinson gave a personal input of her lived experience of post–natal depression, courageously sharing her story of suffering for two years after her little boy was born before she was diagnosed, and offered help and treatment to recover from PND. Lindsay is now actively working to raise awareness around PND and speaks regularly at a wide cross–section of events. Lindsay has started ‘Have you seen that girl?‘, a movement of parents sharing their experiences of parenthood and recovery from post–natal depression. Lindsay aims not only to raise awareness around PND but to campaign for better services in Northern Ireland. Currently only 20% of women who suffer from PND have access to appropriate support services through the NHS. Lindsay’s dream is that all parents in Northern Ireland would have access to the support they need, including access to a Mother and Baby unit (currently there is no such facility on the island of Ireland). Having raised funds herself, Lindsay has created ‘bags of hope’ for new parents which include treats and vouchers as resources for good mental health along with an all–important flyer where Lindsay briefly shares her story and then gives a list of organisations and online resources for parents who find themselves struggling with post–natal depression. Her dream is that every parent in NI, after giving birth is given one of these Bags to take home with them. (On 03/05/17 Alison Meagher and I had the privilege of attending the formal launch of the ‘bags of hope’ at an event to formally mark the first ever ‘Maternal Mental Health Week’).
One of the most poignant parts of the seminar was when Lindsay shared how PND had affected her spiritually. She described withdrawing from others, finding making it to church on Sunday morning stressful, and also finding it very difficult to settle herself to read her Bible, pray or listen to sermon podcasts. As she recovers from PND she recognises that someone who has poor mental health, for whatever reason, may find activities that other Christians easily engage in, to be a real challenge. This reflects not their need or desire for time with God and Christian community, but a lack of capacity for those activities. Lindsay says that as she looks back now, she knows God was with her through her entire journey and that He gave her hope and He was and is her anchor.
What stood out to me the most from discussions at the seminar was that as people who follow God, whatever our denomination, we can make a difference by promoting a culture in our churches and communities that it is so important to talk about mental health. If as churches we go beyond making sure mental health is not a taboo subject, but make our churches a safe place to talk and journey these issues, we are being the heart, the smile, the arms of God, actively listening to those who need to tell their stories, be heard and get help and support.
Finally, as evidenced today, when someone is brave enough to share their story of struggle it shifts the atmosphere creating a culture where others feel they have permission to speak out. This courage in the pursuit of reaching out to others is a beautiful picture to me of the heart of God.
Read Lindsay Robinson’s reflections on life, motherhood and recovering from PND at http://www.haveyouseenthatgirl.com.
Pictured are Revd Stephen Smyth and Mrs Debbie Smyth (from Kilmore and Inch Parishes, Diocese of Down and Dromore), with Karen Kelly of the Irish Council of Churches.