Let’s change the culture of our churches – by lifting the lid on mental health
David Primrose is a Social Responsibility Officer working in the Diocese of Lichfield. David talked to Livability about his involvement in the development of the new course ‘Lifting the Lid’ which aims to raise mental health awareness in churches.
’I remind everyone that those present on the course are people who are going to change the culture of our churches.’ Says David Primrose – Social Responsibility Officer in the Diocese of Lichfield. Already passionate about the topic of mental health in churches, David found himself unable to identify a suitable course for a colleague. After approaching Livability’s Head of Church Partnerships – Mat Ray – with the idea to develop some resources, David was soon road-testing a new Livability course in the diocese.
‘The feedback has been very positive. We begin by looking at bible stories, which is a safe way in. It also has worked for those who are not Christians. One of the things that I’ve discovered in every church is that whenever you give people permission to talk about mental health issues in an open, affirming, generous and sensitive way there have been a significant group of people in every church who have eagerly come forward to be part of that conversation.‘
David’s input helped shape the resource, ensuring that it offers a balance of useful information with opportunities for reflection in the studies. He recognises that churches have a unique opportunity to respond positively to the challenges mental illness presents: ‘If one in four of the general population experiences mental ill health, then in our churches it should be a higher proportion than that. We should be a place where people with mental illness feel comfortable and belong. It is good to challenge any participating church “Don’t we want to be the sort of Christian community where we draw in, give support, love and care for people who have mental ill health in their lives?”’
David recognises that for some, there can be hesitancy in opening up these conversations, yet believes it is possible to find ways to help people feel at ease with the themes. As the topics covered often echo the experience of the participants, he makes sure that those involved know where to access their own personal support.
‘The biggest barrier is fear and hence the opening session of the course focuses on stigma. Stigma and fear are so closely related. It seems to me that tackling these barriers at the very beginning of the course is important. The church has a call to a much more holistic and rounded view of what it is to be a person. Part of that is expressed in the way we challenge the culture’s obsession with rationality and rejection of people who have mental health episodes. We are called as a church to be counter-cultural about this.’
The course has led to some important discoveries for participants as they share their experiences and explore the topic through the lens of faith:
‘I’ve been struck by how people are willing to share their own or their family’s experience. There is relief that they can talk about reality in an open way. I’ve seen beautiful vulnerability, where people have learnt that their faith is about openness rather than about achievements. This has enabled people to review what it is to be a follower of Christ with all of our complexities, flaws and struggles rather than something that is success upon success.’
David reminds each participant that they are playing a valuable part in building a radical shift of perspective: ’I remind everyone that those present on the course are people who are going to change the culture of our churches. We are pioneering in doing this and our own struggle with the material that comes up is for the greater good. It’s for the benefit of our church and community life.’
Core material from the course is drawn from Livability & Mind & Soul’s Mental Health Access Pack website.