Communities of Hope

Earlier in the week I attended an event called ‘Faith in Recovery’.  The morning was a step towards better spiritual care for people with mental ill health by health services working in partnership with faith communities.

Last week 11 faith communities in Lanarkshire signed the See Me pledge to work towards ending the stigma around mental illness.  ‘Faith in Recovery’ was a step towards making that a reality.

I was struck by the number of times speakers highlighted ‘hope’ as something essential to recovery.

‘If you don’t believe you will get better then it is unlikely you will.’

Simon Bradstreet, Scottish Recovery Network

Hope can be particularly elusive, and not just to people who are unwell.  It would appear that institutions can suffer from a lack of hope too.

The symptoms are similar:

  • Difficulty seeing beyond the present
  • Being unable to see anything other than a negative future
  • Thinking you’ll never be able to do the things you used to do again

When people and organisations are stuck in this cycle of negative thinking it is vital for them to have communities to support them.  These communities need to be hopeful.  People need sympathy and understanding but re-enforcing negative thoughts really isn’t helpful.

Negativity is contagious.  It’s a state of mind that it’s easy to get stuck in.

Part of the problem is our understanding of ‘recovery’.  We think that ‘recovery’ means returning to how we were before.  It doesn’t.  It never has.  Very few illnesses, breaks or conditions pass with a return to a previous state.

Healing changes us.

Often a broken bone heals stronger than in was before the break.  Sometimes a vulnerability remains.  Neither of those two states are how we were before.  An infection often leaves antibodies behind which will fight against future attack but it may leave a vulnerability.

The same is true of mental illness and of organisation decline.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect to return to how we were before.  Being ill changes us.  We learn to cope with adversity, we learn how it feels to be down, we learn to recognise the signs of approaching illness, we learn to accept help when we need it and we learn that things can change.  We are not the same as before because we have experienced something different.

If the Easter story tells us anything it is that Jesus was changed by ressurection, and that we are too.  Hope changes everything.

But if you don’t believe you will get better than it is unlikely that you will.  That is the absence of hope.

Sometimes people become defined by their illness, just like people are defined by their job or their relationships or by something the did long ago.  These can be difficult things to change.  Recovery requires us to take steps to get well.  Those can include medication, exercise, healthy eating, rest and talking.  Few of us recover without help.

I wonder if the same is true of organisational recovery?  I wonder if we are able to recognise the things that trigger our problems?  I wonder if we know what a healthy diet and exercise look like?  I wonder if we can learn to live with our vulnerabilities and make the most of our strengths?  I wonder if we want to get better?

Most of all I wonder if churches have forgotten to be hopeful communities.

It was good to hear a story of recovery on Tuesday, a recovery which was in no small assisted by faith and a hopeful community.

The church can and should play a huge part in supporting people with mental health problems.

The church can and should be a hopeful community.

Hope is the key to our recovery… and to to the recovery of many people living with mental illness.

I’m sure Jesus said something about that…