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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

The Second Greatest Commandment by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

It was about a month ago that I received a text message from an old friend. She shared that a good friend of hers’ son was in the midst of a mental health crisis and asked if I would be willing to speak with her. As is my custom I did not hesitate to reply, “Yes.”

When speaking with the mother I could hear the pain she was experiencing. That feeling of uncertainty about her son’s wellbeing, not to mention his future, was most pressing in her remarks. She asked if I would be willing to meet with him and I agreed to see him that evening.

Without going into further detail to preserve the identity of those involved, I will simply say that this certainly was not the first time I’ve had such meetings. In fact, over the last 5 or six years I’ve had many encounters, whether it be with individuals who are dealing with a mental health concern or their family member who is at a loss for where to turn and is simply looking for guidance.

In the Book of Matthew, Chapter 22 verse 39, Jesus tells a Pharisee the following, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, this can be applied to so many situations we are faced with, but for me it’s even more meaningful, especially in the area of mental health.

In my life I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had support from friends, family and even “angels unaware.” What it all comes down to is the simple fact that with all of the love I have received I feel that it is my responsibility to share that the same with others. Some would call it “paying it forward.” I would simply call it what Jesus is asking me to do.

When I think of the years I suffered from my bipolar condition I did not have a mentor or anyone who shared their personal experience with me. Mind you, I did have support, as I previously said, but I did not have a peer (someone who has a lived experience with mental illness) to provide me with guidance and a compassionate ear to listen to my struggles. Perhaps that is why I’m so compelled to help others as much as I am able. And in the end, I wish I could do more. In no way do I want anyone to go through the darkness that can be associated with mental illness all by themselves.

I realize I’m going to sound like an old fogey here, but when I was first going through my “stuff” there was no internet, blogs, social media or even cell phones. So connectedness was harder to come by with the exception of support groups that operated in the community (and even these were not as available as much as they are today). What that forced me to do was to learn, more on my own, how to manage my illness. There were no WebMD, Wikipedia, National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America websites (to name but a few resources). And even with these new innovations people still suffer.

I believe what it all boils down to is being in community with one another. One of the root terms for community from Old English is “fellowship.” It is in this idea of fellowship that we can come together to share the love that can be so freely given and received. If a person feels loved, then they will be more likely to have the feeling that they are accepted and getting the support they so rightly deserve.

As the rock and roll prophet John Lennon so aptly penned, “All we need is love.” Enough said.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.

The Reality of a Child by Lisa LeSueur

written by Lisa LeSueur

I always wake my daughter up in the morning by gently touching her shoulder and giving her a five-minute warning that I’ll be back and expect her to be up and about. One day last week, when I touched her on the shoulder, she bolted upright in bed and sleepily told me “Mom, they shot Santa!” She asked me if she could have a few minutes and fell back on the pillow saying she felt nervous; a word that I don’t think was even in my vocabulary when I was ten. A few extra minutes of sleep seemed to have worked magic for her; however, her dream made a deep and lasting impression on me.  What have we, as a society done to our children?

The following day, the American Psychological Association released the 2018 Stress in America: Generation Z report.  This report found that 75% of young people in Generation Z (ages 15-21) reported mass shootings as a major source of stress. While they also reported other stressors, such as reports of immigrant families being separated (57%) and widespread reports of sexual abuse (53%), it is gun violence that topped the list. This age was also the least likely to report that their mental health was either excellent or very good; it was also the group most likely to have sought mental health treatment or therapy. 

Growing up, I can remember the stories that my mother used to tell me about her experience of going to school during the war. It was classroom protocol for children to learn to dive under their desk at the sound of an air raid siren on the off chance that a bomb would explode on or near the school. After awhile these practice drills became routine; the threat was real, but it was just a threat. For the most part, the war was something that happened in other countries far away from her daily reality. 

Things are different now. Our children are growing up in a society where they are exposed to the reality of gun violence every day. It happens right here in this country, in their cities and neighborhoods. This generation has grown up with school shootings where children their age lose their life at the hands of an angry classmate. They have also been exposed to mass shootings in public places that they frequent such as the mall, movie theaters and concert venues.  They have active shooter drills at school where they learn how to huddle with their friends and teachers behind a locked door hoping that they don’t become the next target. While certainly the personal safety of our children is paramount, we cannot afford to neglect their mental well-being. How can this not take a toll on their mental health, especially those in Generation Z who are looking to leave the safety and security of their parent’s home. 

And yet when the topic of mental health is discussed with regards to these issues, it usually involves the mental health of the shooter. How could someone with mental illness get a weapon? I don’t discount that this is a critical part of the conversation that needs to be happening with regards to preventing these incidents; however, we cannot afford to overlook the real toll that these incidences have taken on our children. Children are losing their sense of security in places where they should be busy being kids rather than being vigilant about their personal safety.  The mental health and well-being of the most vulnerable among us is at stake. Let’s make that part of the conversation as well.  
Lisa LeSueur is a member of the UCC Florida Conference Mental Health Ministry, and is the coordinator for the Mental Health Ministry of Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ. Lisa is currently attending Chicago Theological Seminary working on a Master of Divinity, and is a Student in Discernment with the UCC Florida Conference. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children.