Text: Luke 8:26-39
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I saw a recent cartoon (reproduced above and on the noticesheet) which gave four examples of people’s response to different kinds of illness: one character offers to sign another’s plaster cast for a broken bone, another proudly shows off a number of stitches, another panel proudly boasts of getting the flu, but when a character struggles with mental health issues, all is silent.
Unspoken are words of shame, of judgement, of isolation.
Some things have never changed.
The man described in the Scriptures as “possessed by a Legion of demons” is similarly isolated, banished, feared – forced into (like so many today) to be homeless as a result of his mental illness, the turmoil within him which boiled away and made him appear, to the ancient eye, filled with some external force which they could only describe as demonic.
Yet, even through the turmoil of his illness, this man could perceive the truth of the Christ and sense that God was present, the still small voice which could calm and heal and reconcile.
Christ in his dealings with this – what sensationalist newspapers today would write off as a “nutter” had nothing but compassion for those affected by mental illness, even though his care for them is couched in the language of demonization, what is clear is that Christ saw beyond the label, the outward form of the illness and saw the real person beneath, and sought to reach out to the man and pull him back to a reality free from what a number of very ill people whom I have cared for in the past have described as “their own personal hell”.
Emotive language about “Psychos” and “Nutters”, the tacit approval in girl’s magazines of Eating Disorders and the plain ignoring of the reality of Depression all serve to demonstrate that even though many in the UK might have moved on a little from speaking of demons themselves, we still demonise. Legion may as well be sleeping rough in Ford Park Cemetery tonight.
But Mental Health issues should not be ignored, sidelined or treated with silent embarrassment.
According to mental health charity, MIND
Nearly 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. This means:
- around 300 people out of 1000 will experience mental health problems[1 every year in Britain
- Compare this with approximately 2 per 1000 per year who will have a Stroke[2 and 6 per 1000 for Acute MI (heart attack)[3
- 230 of these will visit a GP
- 102 of these will be diagnosed as having a mental health problem
- 24 of these will be referred to a specialist psychiatric service
- 6 will become inpatients in psychiatric hospitals.
- So note that the SAME incidence per 1000 people of those who receive hospital in-patient treatment as those having a “heart attack”, and how many many more will be dealing with their issues in other ways, or worse struggling on without any intervention at all
- In prison, 70% of prisoners will have some form of mental health issue[4: the relationship between crime and drug/alcohol dependency is major and on top of that we add other mental health issues into a space ill-equipped to deal with it or them.
And yet, we are silent on the issue and so often when one in our community is affected by such issues, we turn our backs. Mental health issues are not the result of weakness or feebleness:
Alastair Campbell – a man open about his own battles with depression and alcohol dependency commented on Twitter recently:
“To those asking what @stephenfry has to be depressed about, would you ask what someone has to be cancerous, diabetic or asthmatic about?”
We wouldn’t blame someone for getting Chicken Pox would we?
There is a special place of stillness within ourselves which can be found and wherein we might find God. The still small voice of God calls (quietly) to each and every one of us. When there is turmoil in our lives and in the lives of others around us, it is that still small voice which will call us to peace, and enable us to still at the foot of the Lord as his disciple.
Christ reached out to the man in compassion and love, and if we too aspire to try and become more Christlike, so should we.