On the 13th April 2019, Gants Hill United Reformed Church hosted the Women of Faith and Power's seminar on Mental Health and Wellbeing. It was a most successful day chaired by Reverend Alexandra Guest with key speakers sharing their experiences on a range of subjects from depression and eating disorders to caring for carers. I thought you might like a synopsis of what was discussed.
Paul McGregor, the author of Man Up, Man Down, told us that suicide for under 48-year-olds is the biggest killer. He shared his own personal story, and from this has concluded that there is power in being vulnerable and that sharing your story can be very therapeutic. For him, his breakthrough came when he met Anne and found he could really talk to and open up to her in a most positive way. Anne has not been able to do this for others, and so reminds us to keep on looking for that person or persons with whom you can share your story. You have to understand that is okay being vulnerable but also, that when you are ill, you are not alone. When suicidal, you have tunnel vision, you believe the world is better off without you, you feel you are a burden, but by knowing you are loved and you have a purpose, you will start your road to recovery. Seeking professional advice and allowing yourself space, you can be transformed.
Karen Tullet spoke about depression and said the best way out was medication, exercise and therapy, in particularly Cognitive Behavourial Therapy (CBT), which converts negative into positive thoughts. There are many examples in the Bible of prophets having forms of depression, not least Elijah (1 Kings 19), David (2 Samuel 12:15-23), Jonah (Jonah 4:3), Job (various instance, including Job 2:9, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14), and Jesus himself (Luke 22:44), where he sweats blood. Karen reminded us that we have a Saviour who understands our pain. She also pointed out that as carers, we have to ensure we look after ourselves and our relationship with God by absorbing love and care, so that we emit good quality support.
Henry Townsend spoke about his own mixture of difficulties but started by offering everyone a hug, and those who did not mind their personal space being invaded in such a way felt that hugs helped. He reminded us that humans need connection, a holding space where they can feel supported and explore their vulnerabilities. His recovery came through creativity and in his metal workshop, he was able to create items of beauty. He can now train others in the use of imagination, creativity, building confidence and maintaining vision. He highlighted how helpful his dog was in offering unconditional love, always being there for him no matter his mood.
Katherine Gould and I spoke about eating disorders, and whilst I focused on my own experience of nearly twenty years in supporting people during my ministry, Katherine spoke about her work as a counsellor and the organisation Taste Life. Katherine took us through various eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. She advised that it is only when the person admits they need help that any productive work can be done. Progress is normally very slow progress and so she introduced us to organisations that can help, such as BEAT, MIND and Taste Life. My own contribution was, that as a carer or supporter, you have to be one hundred per cent committed to helping that person, being unjudgemental and offering support and love over months, even years.
Jonathan Clarke, director of Premiere Lifeline, spoke about care for the carers. The pressure on carers to take on too much and feeling embarrassed to say "I need a break," was a major concern. Many carers are exhausted because they also have full-time jobs, their own houses to look after and their own lives to lead. Another difficult issue is the stigma of a family unable to cope in caring for somebody in need. There is a strong belief that you should not show weakness and be strong for the person you care for. This often results in the carer needing as much help as the person for whom they are caring. The main message is, therefore, to look after yourself, to relax, to let off steam, to have somebody you can talk to, who can support you; and there was a role for churches in identifying when carers need help. Churches must not be afraid to confront situations, which loving families perhaps are unable to see.
The day finished with a question and answer session, which was lively and demonstrated how successful the day was.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon