Helping those in lay and paid pastoral care roles better minister to their congregations, some of whom deal with issues of mental illness and addictions, was the goal of “Mental wellness,” Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s annual pastors, chaplains and congregational leaders event held Jan. 16, 2016, at Steinmann Mennonite Church in Baden.
Brice Balmer, now teaching at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary and with a history in pastoral and chaplaincy work, spoke about the nature of addictions. With addicted behaviour—alcohol, tobacco, drugs, work and sex—often covering up, or responding to, trauma of various kinds, including abuse, he encouraged caregivers to speak of “people with an addiction,” instead of “alcoholics or drug addicts.
His presentation was followed by David Gingerich, a psychologist who works in private practice in Kitchener, and as a consultant with the Waterloo Region District School Board, who spoke more broadly on the nature and statistics around mental health.
With one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health or addiction problem in their lifetimes, he said that many in Mennonite congregations will experience such needs, either personally or as someone in their family, friend or care circles struggles with addiction or mental health issues.
A change taking place within the mental health field is that religious behaviour is moving from being seen as a pathology to an aspect of health, according to Gingerich. Balanced religious behaviour and spirituality is actually being prescribed by some mental health practitioners in order to grow health in their clients, he said, adding that both the community and healthy behaviour aspects of religious groups are seen as helps to wholeness.
A panel discussion moderated by Wanda Wagler-Martin, executive director of Shalom Counselling Services in Waterloo, tackled questions of how congregations can balance empathy and care with good boundaries around the needs of those with mental illnesses and addictions, as well as the needs of the rest of the congregation. Questions about counselling or medications, when to refer a congregant to clinical care, and language around “commit suicide” or “died of/by suicide,” were posed to the panel. Several participants shared poignantly of their struggles with personal mental health issues.
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