In the April issue of ‘Christianity’ there was a book review of ‘Freed from Shame’ which gave Dawn Holmes’ work the same 4 stars as Justin Welby’s latest. Its subject matter was of particular interest to us at Being Alongside / APCMH subtitled as it was: ‘Addressing the stigma of mental illness in the church’. So I found a copy through a large online bookshop although one can also order it directly through the book’s own micro-site or read it as en e-book.
It arrived speedily in a blue paper bag with additional promotional material, a nice touch possibly made easier by the self-published nature of the book. Some of you will know that BA / APCMH has been working on preparing a leaflet to encourage churches and their congregations to do more for the mentally afflicted. Well, this book echoes the ideas expressed in our drafts and expands them. Dawn, with help from Karen Todd of Simplicate, has produced a book that is easy to read, only 100 pages long all laid out creatively and clearly. It is aimed at anyone interested in mental health issues in the Church be they leaders, people with problems, their friends and relatives.
It comprises three sections … Part I ‘Understanding mental health’ deals with all the diagnoses people are given. Part II ‘Being understood’ contains the real-life stories of nearly 20 sufferers and Part III ‘Equipping the church’ gives practical advice to churches on how to help. To be honest I found Part І a little dry but that’s just my personal perspective and probably the information there will educate the layman – when in Part II we learn that Michelle was diagnosed with ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder’ which used to be called ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ I wonder if these labels really help anyone – are we not just people?
The testimonies in Part II derive from Dawn’s survey questions. Each one moved me. I’ll share a few with you now – Michelle says, “… I just want you to walk with me, like Jesus does in the poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’.” Peter says the most important advice is to “listen properly – look behind the mask that a person puts on to protect themselves.” Heather pleads, “… don’t judge me … be practical but patient but above all loving.” Deborah, whose daughter has had traumatic teenage years says, “I believe it’s time churches did more to support people struggling with mental illness. Don’t let more people suffer alone, get hurt or misunderstood – it’s time for a change.” Amen to that.
Dawn’s practical suggestions in Part III include setting up drop-ins, quiet zones, prayer spaces and befriending sufferers on to one. I particularly liked one of her bullet-point charts which mirrored the ethos of our little charity, but were all taken from comments in her survey.
- Be real.
- Don’t look down on people, it could be you one day.
- Listen, listen and listen some more.
- Don’t push for more information than the person wants to give.
- Keep information confidential.
- Be respectful.
- Love them like Jesus does.
- Walk into services with the person and sit with them.
- Show support rather than a “fix-it” approach.
- Listen, pray and be a friend.
- Don’t give up on the person.
- Tell people it is OK not to be OK.
- Be more accepting and less shocked.
- Stop any gossip or negative comments about the person.
All in all an excellent publication, written with empathy and love. As churches, we need to step up to the plate and end the stigma and shame says Dawn. May God reveal His heart to you as you read this book and bring His hope, grace and peace to all.