The reality is that mental health is something that everyone possesses and whilst many might consider theirs to be sound, the reality is that squalls can appear on the most tranquil of waters at the most unexpected times. Some years back I watched a science programme which billed Uganda's LakeVictoria as the stormiest place on the globe with Italy taking the most consistently good prize - and I don't know it that's right or not, but the same goes for people - some are known for their storms whilst others for their constancy or tranquility. That said I've experienced sunny days on the shores of Victoria (bilharzia and nasty snappy things too) and had raging storms in Italy. Climatic squalls and brainsqualls can affect us all and with some they pass and others they remain to act as limitation, debilitation and curse.
It seems to me that here are a number of taboos in our society today but that which tops the league is to be found in the area of mental illness and even though it cannot be caught, it is treated as contagious and those who suffer from it are often treated much like mediaeval lepers. What I find is that those who should seek to keep the faith with the mentally ill and tolerate the excesses that the illness brings, rarely do.
I know that sufferers can be embarrassing - but so can we at times and we don't have the excuse of any illness, and yet we seek understanding and continuing love, don't we?
I know that those who are shackled by mental health issues live lives that often exist in solitary confinement - trapped in walls made of brick, perceptions and responses (theirs and ours).
I know that those who care for those with mental illness are sufferers too! They live in the perennial fear that the next crisis might be the last the focus of their love might have. They find themselves shut in as they fight to keep their loved one stable, supported and, often, alive.
A man I worked with years ago, speaking of his psychosis said that he, 'Lived a death sentenced waiting to be carried out!' Sadly for him, that sentence was never commuted and he eventually took his life. The 'Black Dog' made so famous by Winston Churchill, eventually delivered a fatal bite.
So I'm writing this as a bit of a plea, asking that we - theist or atheist - take a moment to think of those we know who have issues with their own mental wellbeing or perhaps those for whom they care; asking the questions:
How do we care for those who care for people with illness (physical or mental), and do we deal equally between the two?
How do we regard the two? Are they regarded equally or do we have prejudices and blind spots?
We are called to love and provide places of security for the weak, the marginalised, the oppressed, the acted against and disenfranchised. All things that can be found residing in one blanket term:
What are we doing to help others become as well as we might like to think we are?
What are we doing for those with mental health issues to help them, and those who care for them, to help them live in a supportive and caring place?