An essay from Derek Swenson

The human mind is perfectly capable of lifting itself to heaven, digging itself into hell, or straying into any of the multitudinous crevices or currents between. When docked in any of these, physical reality can become an afterthought.

This may seem exciting, but repeatedly enduring the experience of your mind being dislodged from physical reality without any intent or action on your own part has consequences; it can be isolating, disorienting, and dangerous. And I have learned the hard way that these consequences are not limited to one’s self. It can be scary and bewildering to others, sometimes enough for you to be forcefully hospitalized in conditions where confinement is of higher priority than treatment.

And if that is not enough, the paths back to physical reality can fade and become shadowy and impermanent. The visions, dreams, ideas, and voices may echo forever, whether for good or ill.

I have learned a lot from my experiences, but each lesson comes draped with painful reminders of the suffering and humiliation withstood to just keep going. People who experience mental health episodes often become scapegoats for media and politicians, but we are most dangerous to ourselves, with suicide rates exponentially higher than the general population.

So what should we do? Treatment and professional support options are often of highly variable quality and availability. But even with proper medical care, the most damaging consequences can be the life-long stigma and shunning from society that can injure ones’ recovery or even retraumatize.

And so it is perhaps here where communities of faith, motivated by the promise of radical welcome and acceptance within Jesus’ message, can step in to meet the moment. Although love and support are not billable to insurance, they can be the greatest healing forces we have available, if we choose to use them.

And [Jesus] will answer them, ‘Truly, I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of my People, you also did to me.’ ”

Matthew 25:40

Editor’s Note: The Mental Health Awareness Work Group is grateful to those who are willing to share their personal stories with our church family, to help us develop a deeper sensitivity to those who struggle with mental health challenges. Otherwise, we can only presume to understand. So we thank you, Derek Swenson, for your thoughtful essay.

Coming Up: Mental Health Awareness Book Discussion

What: Mental Health Awareness book discussion
When: Two consecutive Wednesdays, November 1 and November 8, 4:30 – 6 p.m.
Where: In-person at FCC in the Chapel
Why: To increase our understanding about the challenges inherent in mental health issues in families and to learn more about accessibility to services.

For more information, contact: Chris Cunningham, or Betsy Hoell,