May 12, 2021
Mental Health Awareness Month: Welcoming All
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, this week I’m sharing a letter we received here at Trinity.
My name is [omitted] and I live in [omitted]. My plan was to visit all the seminaries in the ELCA (my bucket list). So I decided to write a letter to talk with you about mental illness. It is not as bad as you see on TV. Most people with mental illness want to belong in their communities. I am lucky that the church I belong to sees me for me and not for my mental illness. I even have some jobs (lighting candles and ushering) and on the planning committee. I have schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and I always take my medication whether I am feeling good or not. Now the reason I am writing this letter is when you graduate and accept your call, reach out and make a person with mental illness feel welcome in your church. I may never know if anyone reaches out but I hope you do.
Here is my sadness. My correspondent chose not to include a return address. I understand that choice, given the stigma that people living with mental illness all too often experience in our society. But if I had a return address, I would have written to him to thank him for reaching out and sharing his experience.
When my correspondent writes, “It is not as bad as you see on TV,” I think part of what he is saying is “You don’t need to be afraid of me.” As the sister of someone living with chronic schizophrenia, I know that people often react to mentally ill individuals out of ignorance and out of fear. Years ago, when my mother advocated for the establishment of a group home for mentally ill persons in our community, people in the neighborhood protested, “We want our children to be safe.” My mother’s response: “I want my child to be safe, too!”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences some form of mental illness in any given year, and one in every 20 adults is living with a serious long-term mental health condition. Each one of these individuals, like my correspondent and like my brother, is a beloved child of God, made in God’s own image.
I’ll end by echoing my correspondent’s words:
Reach out and make a person with mental illness feel welcome in your church and in your community. I may never know if anyone reaches out but I hope you do.
The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.
Trinity Lutheran Seminary forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.