In January 2014, the Winnipeg Free Press reported on a five year study undertaken by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy at the University of Manitoba. This study examined data from 2008-2013, focusing on 1) the reasons for visits to physicians, 2) medications dispersed by pharmacists, and 3) hospital stays. The study found that in the five year period, 24.4% of physician visits, medications, or hospital stays in Winnipeg were related to mental illness (nearly one in four). By way of comparison, one in eight visits, medications, or hospital stays were connected to heart-related issues.
Mental illness is diagnosed by use of the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. It includes such conditions as depressive, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, or trauma disorders (to name a few). What the one in four statistic does not include are those persons who are struggling with a mental illness but have not been diagnosed, and those family members who are trying to support and encourage their loved ones who have a mental illness. It is fair to say that the one in four statistic under-represents the impact that mental illness has in our community.
Why should we care? According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature death in Canada. In any given week, at least 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to problems with their mental health. In addition, the burden of mental illness is estimated at $51 billion per year” (camh.ca). These are startling facts!
For those of us who follow Jesus, it is important to recognize that mental illness crosses economic, racial, cultural, and faith traditions. As we look at our church families on any given Sunday, there may be many persons who may be struggling with either a mental illness themselves or trying to help a loved one who is dealing with the effects of a mental illness. Or, through the course of our missional activities, we may encounter someone who faces the many challenges associated with these issues.
As I write these words, it is the Last Sunday after Pentecost. The Reign of Christ is approaching. In the Gospel for the day, Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus says to the righteous, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are member of my family you did it to me”. (RSVP, 35-40) It is clear that Jesus calls upon us to respond from a place of compassion to those who are hurting.
How do we in the Diocese begin to respond to those with mental health challenges? At the October 2014 Synod, a series of resolutions about mental health were passed. Beginning soon, the Diocese will be promoting education and training about mental health issues. We will begin to build resource and referral networks, and to help our parishes become safe communities for all. These are ambitious tasks but, given the need, they are worthy tasks for those who follow Jesus to take on.
Lee Titterington is the priest at St. Bartholomew’s, Winnipeg, and is a psychotherapist.