Rev. Lynn Granke
WINNIPEG – Churches often react to those suffering from mental illness with fear and suspicion, says a Winnipeg spiritual care worker.
The Rev. Lynn Granke said churches do know how to support people suffering from cancer, or those who have lost loved ones. But they don't always use those same skills in helping the mentally ill.
Granke, manager of Spiritual Health Services at Victoria General Hospital, says people aren't asking their churches for help because they fear a negative reaction.
Granke was part of a panel on spiritual perspectives on bipolar disorder Oct. 26 at St. Peter's Anglican Church. The event was put on by the Manitoba Multifaith Council.
The situation is exacerbated, she said, by broad media coverage of stories of mental health sufferers committing crimes.
"Considering the number of people with a mental illness, those incidents are extraordinarily rare, but they create a fear of mental illness."
Granke described a poster advocating awareness of mental health issues that portrays a sufferer thinking, "It's not so much the voices in my head, it's the voices behind my back."
Many sufferers who do seek help in churches find them unhelpful, she said. "Sometimes they're told they don't pray enough, and that's blaming the victim."
Granke said for a person of faith suffering a mental illness "the burning question is, 'Why me? Am I being punished?'"
Because a mental health sufferer may look normal, others think they should be able to fix themselves.
"They're thinking, 'Why can't you just get better?' But this is illness, not personality," Granke said. "People do not get well by pulling up their bootstraps. They need treatment and they need medication."
Tina Holland, director of education for the Mood Disorder Association of Manitoba, said bipolar disorder is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behaviour.
Holland was diagnosed as bipolar at age 27. At age 12, she said, "I wanted to die or just wanted the pain to stop."
When she was "up" she could go days without sleep, but in bouts of depression she would sleep for days.
"It was like falling into a deep hole," she said. "You just keep falling into greater and greater darkness with no way out. There is nothing, just the dark and a totally helpless feeling."
Holland said over the years, with the help of a doctor she called "a life saver," and an understanding employer, among others, she found what she called "real recovery."
Now, she takes daily medication "and I will never stop taking it."