The Church’s Response to Mental Illness

Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI       Our health focus for 2017 has been on mental illness. In Milton this has been done through newsletter articles, bulletin board items, and Back Door posters. In September, we started a Grow Group discussion class titled “Mental Illness is Not a Choice.” We viewed videos, heard guest speakers and are working through a Bible study. Response has been so great that the class is continuing for another quarter. After learning about the various forms of mental illness, the question becomes “what should be the church’s response to those who suffer from these brain disorders?” One of the first things we learned is that 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental health issue. This may include relatives, those you share the pew with at worship, fellow workers or yourself. Many times we have no idea who they are since people tend to be ashamed of their condition. Much stigma is attached. When symptoms flare up people often drop out of activities until things are under control again. This makes us oblivious to their illness. When someone has a physical illness such as cancer or a broken leg, we help out by taking meals, visiting, sending cards, giving them rides, etc. Mental illness is called a “no casserole” disease because it is usually excluded from this type of help. So what can your church congregation do to support the mentally ill? Become educated about the disease. There are many resources on the internet, excellent books such as “The Troubled Mind” by Amy Simpson or NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, which has literature, classes and support groups. Learning helps remove the stigma associated with mental illness. Get the support of your pastor in the education process. Help them become educated. Talk about the illness. Tell your own story. Start a support group. Rid the church of stigma and shame. Do not gossip about those who are struggling or avoid them. Delight in broken people. Make them feel welcome. Be present, become a friend, radiate acceptance. The mentally ill are often lonely. Be patient. Mental illness does not resolve overnight; some is never resolved but can...

Health News: Anxiety

Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI   Anxiety, a natural response to stress and danger, becomes pathological when excessive and uncontrollable. Anxiety disorders share common features of excessive fear and irrational anxiety that lead to changes in behavior and certain physical disturbances including panic attacks. The long-term effects of undiagnosed and under-treated anxiety result in psychosocial and occupational dysfunctions, drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, and increased risk of suicide. They are one of the major contributors to disability, costing over $42 billion annually. The body’s stress response is designed to be acute and limited to a short period of time. When stress becomes chronic, it disturbs physical and mental health. Stress elevates blood pressure and heart rate, increases blood sugar levels, and diminishes inflammatory and immune responses. Other symptoms include pounding heartbeat, sweating palms, dizziness, headaches, stomach upsets, tunnel vision, and shaking. Psychologically, people report feeling a state of apprehension or uneasiness along with complaints of depression and crying spells. People with unhealthy lifestyles, poor coping skills, and environmental stressors including emotional, physical or sexual abuse, are more prone to anxiety disorders. Anxiety may be a learned behavior or have a genetic risk factor. In the past 30-50 years, we have experienced a great deal of environmental and social disorder. It is difficult to adjust to the increased pace of modern society and rapid technological change. Faced with a barrage of differing worldviews and moral standards, Biblical standards such as the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule seem outdated. Researchers have found that religion and faith play a significant role in health and response to illness. It is likely changing societal factors and lack of spirituality play a role in anxiety today. There is no single treatment that can relieve anxiety. Approach to treatment should always start with supportive listening and education about anxiety and fear. Patients need to know that anxiety is treatable, manageable, and in some cases, curable. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been shown to be as effective as medication and is a commonly used therapy in treating anxiety. It involves multiple sessions with mental health professionals trained in CBT techniques. Faith-based CBT replaces negative ideas through the use of Biblical...

Depression

Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI   Abraham Lincoln, Elijah, Winston Churchill, and King David had one thing in common: they all suffered at various times from the dark cloud of depression. It is called the common cold of emotional illnesses, affects many people, and is misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and confused with lack of faith. One out of every four women and one out of every seven men become clinically depressed at some point in their lives. People of all ages and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds experience it. Depression can be simply a mood or, at the other end of the continuum, a serious disorder. It can range from feeling a little down to feeling suicidal. It is an emotional state of pain, a thinking state of confusion, and a physical state of dysregulation. Psalms 6 and 13 describe it with such expressions as: “my bones are in agony, my soul is in anguish, I am worn out from groaning, I flood my bed with weeping, and my eyes grow weak with sorrow. How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Symptoms of depression may include: low self esteem, fatigue, unexplained headaches or backaches, loss of appetite or overeating, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, restlessness, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, loss of interest and enjoyment in most things, loss of sexual desire and recurrent thoughts of death or dying. The precise cause of depression is unknown. Some are genetically predisposed to the chemical imbalances that bring on depression. Certain medications and physical illnesses have depression as a side effect: for example, hypothyroidism, migraine, heart disease, fibromyalgia, and others. It may be the result of trauma, loss or adjustment, or be caused by burnout, chronic unmet needs, unresolved grief, unresolved anger, pent-up emotions, bitterness, lack of forgiveness, helplessness, negative thinking patterns, stress, sleep deprivation, shame or spiritual dryness. While there is not a blood test or diagnostic test for depression, a doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history, giving special attention to: alcohol and drug use, thoughts of death or suicide, family history, and sleep patterns. A physical exam can help...

Mental Illness

Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions. Examples include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Nearly 46% of Americans will be diagnosed with some type of mental illness in their lifetime. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. A concern becomes a mental illness when signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect ability to function. In most cases mental illness symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy). Signs and symptoms of mental illness include abnormal thinking, behavior, and emotions such as feeling sad, confused thinking, excessive fears or worries, and problems sleeping. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, back pain, chest pain, and digestive problems. In general, symptoms may indicate a mental illness when they make you miserable and interfere with ability to function in daily life. The main classes of mental illness are mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance-related disorders, disorders of thinking (cognitive disorders), disorders of detachment from reality (psychotic disorders), developmental disorders and personality disorders. Mood disorders include those that affect how you feel emotionally. Examples include depression and bipolar disorder. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, accompanied by feeling ill at ease. Examples include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance-related disorders include problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and illegal or legal drugs. Psychotic disorders cause detachment from reality (delusions). The most notable example is schizophrenia. Cognitive disorders affect ability to think and reason. They include delirium, dementia, and memory problems. Alzheimer’s disease is an example. Developmental disorders cover a wide range of problems that usually begin in infancy, childhood or adolescence. They include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disabilities. A personality disorder is characterized by a lasting pattern of emotional instability and unhealthy behavior that causes problems in life and relationships. Examples include borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. There is no specific identifiable cause of mental illness. It is thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. A life situation may trigger the actual mental illness if you already have...

18 Things Mentally Strong People Do

by Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI A goal for 2017 is to make our church families more knowledgeable about mental health issues so that we can all understand and support those who experience mental illness within and outside the church. There will be an article about a different mental illness each month this year. It seemed appropriate to start out with one definition of some actions that mentally healthy people exhibit. Don’t be concerned if you don’t measure up to all of them. No one does. They are suggestions for you to ponder as you think about your own mental health.   1. They move on. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. 2. They keep control. They don’t give away their power. 3. They embrace change. They welcome challenges. 4. They stay happy. They don’t complain. They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control. 5. They are kind, fair, and unafraid to speak up. They don’t worry about pleasing other people. 6. They are willing to take calculated risks. They weigh the risks and benefits before taking action. 7. They invest their energy in the present. They don’t dwell on the past. 8. They accept full responsibility for their past behavior. They don’t make the same mistake over and over. 9. They celebrate other people’s success. They don’t resent that success. 10. They are willing to fail. They don’t give up after failing. They see every failure as a chance to improve. 11. They enjoy their time alone. They don’t fear being alone. 12. They are prepared to work and succeed on their own merits. They don’t feel the world owes them anything. 13. They have staying power. They don’t expect immediate results. 14. They evaluate their core beliefs — and modify as needed. 15. They expend their mental energy wisely. They don’t spend time on unproductive thoughts. 16. They think productively. They replace negative thoughts with productive thoughts. 17. They tolerate discomfort. They accept their feelings without being controlled by them. 18. They reflect on their progress every day. They take time to consider what they’ve achieved and where they are going. Rhodes...

Memory Boosters

Barb Green, Parish Nurse Milton, WI Memory Boosters Worried about fading brain power? Cognitive skills start to decline at age 27. Although some changes in thinking and memory are inevitable, the good news is that lifestyle seems to be able to blunt those effects. Here’s what you can do to preserve yours: 1. Take the stairs Exercise benefits your head as much as the rest of your body. Overall cardio-respiratory fitness also lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart problems — all known risk factors for Alzheimer’s. 2. Change your wallpaper Doing routine things keeps the brain on autopilot. Novelty fires up the brain as new data creates and works new neural pathways. 3. Steal some zzz’s by daylight Your brain sorts, consolidates and stores memories accumulated during the day. That’s why eight hours at night is so valuable. However, a six-minute nap is as valuable as a full night’s sleep to short-term recall. A 90-minute nap speeds up the process that helps the brain consolidate long-term memories. 4. Take a mental “photograph” To help make the memory of an incident last, take a “snapshot” of it while you’re in the moment, using all your senses. Think about what you see; colors, textures, smell, taste. This can help you hang onto a happy memory longer. It can also help you remember where you parked your car. 5. Eat less Decreasing daily calories helps a healthy person score 20% better on memory tests. Those eating a Mediterranean diet have the lowest risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. 6. Try a “brain-training” game or join a “brain gym” One study shows that people over 65 who use a computerized cognitive training program for an hour a day improve memory and attention. 7. Spend some time online Searching the Web is a bit like using a brain-training course. 8. Stop and sip a cuppa. Green and black teas have a protective effect on memory, possibly by influencing enzymes in the brain. People who drink moderate amounts of coffee at midlife have lower odds of developing dementia in late life. Taking a coffee or tea break is a good opportunity for de-stressing. 10. Take...