Newsletter – October, 1999

**Companion Resources Newsletter**

edited by Paul D. Leichty

Volume 1, No. 10 October 1999

Greetings from Companion Resources! Today, I want to highlight a hidden illness and a useful resource for dealing with it. First, though, a word from our sponsor…

Pride and triumph turn to tragedy… a young man graduates near the top of his high school class and goes off to a top university in another state. For awhile he seems to be doing well, but then signs of trouble emerge. Finally, late one evening, a call from a college official informs the parents that their son has been hospitalized with a serious illness. They quickly travel to the university town and arrange for their son to be transferred to a hospital close to their home. It is a painful period in their family’s life. However, the real pain is just beginning.

If the son’s illness was cancer or a disease of the heart, liver, lungs, or thyroid system, for example, it would be difficult enough. Most likely, the family would seek support from family and friends and particularly from their faith community. Prayers would go up for healing.

However, this particular illness is a *mental* illness. The events leading up to the hospitalization are bizarre and embarrassing. The parents are afraid to let anyone know. What will people think if they hear what happened? How could they raise a son who would do such things? What are they going to tell people at church who ask about the son and why he is no longer in college? These are just some of the questions that swirl around in the minds of the parents.

It is easy to see why mental illness becomes a hidden illness. The scenario above is often just the beginning of a seemingly endless cycle of hospitalization, improvement, set-back, and hospitalization again. Parents struggle with all of the popular myths of what they have done to “cause” this problem. Siblings are affected by an atmosphere of tension and pain as the affected person re-joins the family to gain some stability. Friends grieve the loss of their once-popular fun-loving friend. And the person most affected simply struggles to cope with the disease that plays tricks at the center of who he is–in his brain.

At the very core, the distinctions often made between physical illness and mental illness break down. Illness and disease can affect any of the vital organs of our body. Mental illness affects the brain and the brain is as much a part of our physical body as the heart or the lungs. Yet when disease affects the mind, we attach a stigma to it. We become afraid. Walls of isolation are built and community breaks down.

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The cycle of strange behavior, fear, isolation, and loss of companions and community can be reversed. However, it will be up to the family and the community as a whole to take the first steps. A wonderful new resource on the Internet that may help the community take those first steps is called “Pathways to Promise: Ministry and Mental Illness” and is found at http://www.pathways2promise.org/

As its home page states, “Pathways to Promise is an interfaith technical assistance and resource center which offers liturgical and educational materials, program models, and networking information to promote a caring ministry with people with mental illness and their families.” Major sections of *Pathways to Promise* include Pastoral Crisis Intervention, Helping the Family, and Resources. The information given is practical and the site is attractive and easy to use. The Resources section contains links to dozens of other sites and organizations to help persons find just the right resource for their situation.

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Unfortunately, mental illness still has plenty of stigma attached to it. However, just as there are many promising new treatments and medications in the medical field, there are also resources for rebuilding the lives and relationships that are affected by mental illness. Earlier this month, Mental Illness Awareness Week was celebrated. Building companionship with persons and families affected by mental illness starts with the attitude and awareness of each of us in the community. The chances are great that you or someone you know is affected in some way by chronic mental illness. I encourage you to learn and grow in compassion and companionship.

My thanks go to Crystal Horning, a former board member of Pathways to Promise who alerted me to this excellent site. Crystal is the mental illness consultant for Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA), a fraternal benefits organization. MMA’s own web site can be found at http://www.mma-online.org/.

Please keep in touch and pass this newsletter on to a friend. If you are receiving this newsletter as a sample or from a friend, you can subscribe free of charge to receive this newsletter monthly. See the subscription information on the Companion Resources home page at https://companionresources.org or send an e-mail to CompanionResources-subscribe@listbot.com.

Blessings to all!

Paul D. Leichty

Fort Wayne, Indiana

PDLeichty@cresources.org

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