Equipped to Care Manual
Dr. Stephen Bradley, Ray Clarke and Linda Rowett
In Ireland, there are approximately 400-500 suicides per annum. A conservative estimate suggests that there are at least 60,000 cases of self-harm occurring per year; most of these going unreported. Samaritans Ireland responds to approximately one call for help every minute. On Christmas Day alone, Childline in Ireland receives somewhere in the region 1100-1200 calls for help from young people. 1 in 4 of us are estimated to suffer from some sort of ‘mental health issue’ in any given year. However, a ‘mental health issue’ is not necessarily the same thing as ‘mental illness’. For example, one mental health service evaluation in Ireland found that approximately two thirds of those referred were not subsequently diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’, but were struggling with ‘psychosocial issues’ such as alcohol and drug overuse, relationship problems, financial crisis amongst others.
The human condition since the fall of man has been one of struggle. Struggle to be at peace with self, God and others. This struggle sometimes leads to fear, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thinking and planning, self-harm behaviours, depression, anger, guilt and shame, negative thought patterns, hopelessness, addictive behaviours and grief over childhood trauma, loss, abuse and relationship difficulties. A common theme in all of the above is an inability by those struggling to connect (with themselves, God or others) which leads to withdrawal, social exclusion and loneliness.
Are these issues solely the domain of the professionals or is there something that we, the church, can do to help? Can we respond?
God is the source and ultimate expression of love; even to the extent of providing His Son as a sacrifice in order to restore an ongoing relationship with man and reveal His character and nature. Man so needs that connection with God to find purpose and value in life, without it despair and hopelessness can so easily result. The body of Christ, the Church, can represent God’s love, purpose and character to a hurting world if it reflects God’s heart. To do this we need not only to understand, hear and respond to the broken, but to be ‘being healed’ and made whole ourselves in an ongoing way. That requires us to know ourselves and God intimately, only then can we begin to know our neighbour as ourselves. That is, not to replicate secular services, but to provide a distinctively Christian response to those in emotional and/or psychosocial distress. Providing a Christ-like response of love, care and acceptance (‘radical friendship’) that allows the church to become a place of hospitality and welcome, where a listening ear can be found.