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Florida Conference

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the United Church of Christ recognized Sunday, May 21 as Mental Health Sunday.  In our worship, we used the liturgies they provided for marking the occasion and held a town hall on the current crisis of adolescent mental health.  We are a WISE congregation—an official designation within our denomination of those churches that are welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged for mental health.  As part of this “Resources for Living” series, I thought I’d offer some ideas related to mental health and well-being.

Blessed Youth: Breaking the Silence about Mental Health with Children and Teens: Lund, Sarah Griffith: 9780827203204: BooksSpeaking of WISE churches, you might want to check out the UCC Mental Health Network’s website, here.  Sarah Lund, who is our national denominational minister whose work is devoted to mental health and well-being, spoke here at First Central years ago, and you can watch her talk here.  She has also recently published a book Blessed Youth: Breaking the Silence about Mental Health with Children and Teens.

There are, of course, numerous books of psychology, medicine, self-help, and pastoral care that relate to this topic.  I was a little overwhelmed looking at all the resources I have on my shelves, including specific books related to some diagnoses like depression, bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD.  But rather than list all of those, I thought I’d focus on three that you might find helpful.

An excellent book that gives a broad, Christian introduction to mental illness is Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.  The title of the book comes from Psalm 88.  Greene-McCreight is a chaplain at Yale University and herself suffers from depression.  She brings her own testimony to bear on the reading of scripture in order to provide hope and healing.

The theologian Monica Coleman published a memoir in 2016 entitled Bipolar Faith.  She recounts her struggles as a black woman, an academic, and a survivor of sexual assault with her bipolar diagnosis.  All of these features intersect in her identity.  If you are in search of a first-hand account of a Christian living with a mental illness, I recommend this book.

Another memoir is My Mother’s Curse by Christine Nicolette-Gonzalez.  Christine is a member of one of the churches I served twenty years ago.  At the time, she was a mother of two teenagers in my youth group.  Christine experienced trauma growing up in a home with a mother with a severe, and largely untreated, mental illness.  Christine’s book is an account of how illness can reach beyond the person with a diagnosis, affecting the well-being of others.  And of how she worked to make sure that she didn’t pass on the same trauma to her children.

I believe it is important to share resources for families to use with children, to help them both with their own emotional well-being and to better understand family members who live with mental illness. The Boy with Big, Big Feelings (The Big, Big Series, 1): 9781506454504: Lee, Britney Winn, Souva, Jacob: BooksI really like The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee.  The boy in the book is regularly overwhelmed with the whole range of his emotions from joy to sadness.  He’s embarrassed by this and worried that other kids will make fun of him.  This book is beautiful and a really helpful tool for talking about our feelings with children.

Meh by Deborah Malcolm is a picture book, with no words, that explores the feeling of sadness, particularly when sadness lingers and becomes depression.  The book invites conversation as you and your child supply the words to describe what’s going on in the pictures on the page.

For helping children understand how mental illness affects the adults in their lives, I recommend three books:  The Color Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters & Polly Peters, Up and Down Mom by Summer Macon, and Balloons for Papa by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia.

I hope these resources help us in our ongoing efforts to end stigma and openly deal with our emotional and mental health and well-being.

Addendum:  Shortly after writing and posting this column, two new resources came to my attention that I want to share.  One is an article in the Washington Post on the empirical evidence that listening to birdsong helps with our mental health.  So, go outside, open those windows, even listen to recordings of birds!  The other was an episode of the Ezra Klein Show podcast discussing the crisis in adolescent mental  health.  His next episode will also continue the discussion.


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