Calling all historians…… John Vallatt has a long association with the charity and has documented much of its history in 2016. We hope you find it an interesting read.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR PASTORAL CARE IN MENTAL HEALTH
(NOW KNOWN AS “BEING ALONGSIDE”)
PART 1. From Bright Beginnings through Testing Times to the Second Spring (1986 to 1993)
Jane and Austin Lindon’s son, who had schizophrenia, had been a psychiatric in-patient for 2 years when Jane realised that he had not received a single visit from a priest during that time. That was not surprising in the mid-1980s as it was then felt by many, if not most, mental health professionals that spiritual or religious thoughts were delusional or even a symptom of mental illness and that those matters were best avoided. On the other hand, parish priests and other faith leaders had little experience of people with severe mental health issues and took their lead from the psychiatrists. It was not unusual for the spiritual well-being of seriously ill patients to be ignored. Jane, a Catholic, was appalled. Determined to try to do something about it, she sent a letter to a number of people whom she and her husband, Austin, thought might be interested in helping. She invited them to a meeting at St Giles Church Hall on 2nd October 1986 at which a steering committee was formed.
In response to an increasing number of people arriving at Southwark Cathedral complaining of loneliness, the cathedral’s day chaplains asked Andrew Wilson to lead them in a group discussion on the problem. Here he shares his contribution to the meeting.
I based my contribution to the discussion around two books I had been reading in lockdown. By way of introduction I suggested that the experience of loneliness was universal, whether it be in the playground perhaps, or the workplace, or sadly even within the circle of family and friends. One commentator writes “ The experience of loneliness is as universal as hunger or thirst. Because It affects us more intimately we are less inclined to speak of it. But who has not known its gnawing ache?” Jesus himself shared in that anguish, as Gethsemane and Calvary lay bare. “Alone, and in silent tears,” he endured betrayal and stigma.
The two books I had read both explored the anatomy of loneliness. The one a novel long-listed for the Booker prize, Real Life by Brandon Taylor, a black, gay American writer, and the other The Shattering of Loneliness, by Dom Erik Varden, formerly the abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Saint Bernard in Leicestershire, and now returned to his native land, to become Bishop of Central Norway.
This is a well written coherent account of what it must be like to have been born with a silver spoon, suffered the slings and things of outrageous fortune, fallen heavily, recognised one’s own plight and, with belief, compiled the many memories to chronicle a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ succession of extraordinary events. The fact that it is done with clarity and honesty makes it compelling reading.
The memoir starts off with the horrific ordeal of slipping through the mental health net, even as a voluntary patient, and reads at this stage rather like a verbatim account outlining the events after they had happened. The logical, well argued in hindsight, rant against widespread chemical coshing by the seemingly non-sensical overstretched unconcerned authorities and the Catch-22 patients can find themselves so easily sucked into make for disturbing reading.
Editor’s note: We are so grateful to Aisling (not her real name) for providing us with the following unvarnished account of her experience of a mental health crisis.
“Are you sure about this?” he said, as I slid the white gold band adorned with a diamond from my ring finger, and passed it back to him across the café table.
“Yes, I’m sure.” Little did I know that in that moment, Pandora’s box had been well and truly ripped open, and goddamn it, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get it shut again.
It was an otherwise innocuous June day in an upmarket, pedestrian borough of South-West London, famed for its yummy mummies, posh smoothies, and chain restaurants.
However, despite the suburban setting, this small action was about to set the wheels in motion for what can only be described as complete and utter hell on earth. Charles Dickens’ Hard Times had nothing on the next few months of my life.
I remember I was dressed in my workout gear: I’d just left a class at my new gym, and had come to see him for this last, final, decisive action over a coffee.
Passing back the engagement ring in itself was such an easy thing to do. It wasn’t so very hard to call curtains on a life that had barely just begun. What I hadn’t bargained for was everything that came next.
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.