Is your church a safe space for those with mental illnesses? - Woman Alive Skip to content

Is your church a safe space for those with mental illnesses?

Rachael Newham was on an adult psychiatric ward aged 16. Today, she is the founding director of ThinkTwice, an organisation dedicated to changing the way the Church responds to those suffering

I started ThinkTwice ten years ago, but when we began thinking about how to mark our 10th anniversary, we could not have imagined what 2020 would bring to the world.

We could not know the collective fear, grief and confusion that would characterise 2020 for many of us but what we did know was that we wanted to revisit the theme of how our churches can be sanctuaries amidst the agonies of mental illness - something which sits at the heart of ThinkTwice.

The spark of ThinkTwice began in an acute mental health ward when, through my own pain and dissociation I felt the words “We’ve got to shine in here” rest on my heart. I didn’t really understand the significance of the words as I fought mental illness and delved in and out of madness, but the words never left me.

Some years later, when the worst of the storm had passed I began work as a volunteer chaplain on an acute mental health ward. I had a panic attack on my first day as the memories threatened to overwhelm me but I soon got stuck into the work of listening to the stories of those living with the most enduring of mental illnesses. Once again, I felt those words burn in my heart: “We’ve got to shine in here”.

I started with just a blog and a Facebook page, with no real insight as to what I wanted to do, but with the belief that God was calling me to be a part of changing the way the Church viewed and treated those with mental illnesses.

In 2020, ThinkTwice is a registered national charity delivering mental health training combining practical support and theological reflection to hundreds of people and raising awareness of mental health issues within the church to many more.

When we started, much of the conversations around mental health and the church were about encouraging people to face the reality that people in their pews were struggling with mental illness. Today, we’re more aware than ever that mental illness exists but we still have a great deal of work to do to make our churches true sanctuaries for those who may be suffering.

The Church has a rich history in mental health care; in fact the oldest mental health hospital in the world is named after the birthplace of Christ, The Bethlehem Royal in London. We believe that our churches can and should be sanctuaries; holy places of safety, comfort and hope - but we can only do this by talking about mental health in our churches; providing care and pointing to the hope we have in Jesus who is our sanctuary.

In Jesus’ earthly ministry He welcomed everyone and at the point of His death, the curtain which separated us from the holiest sanctuary was torn open so that we may meet with God through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hope that our spoken word film (below) and resources on the theme of sanctuary will enable your church to change the conversation about mental health - and to invite people to experience the hope and love of Jesus, our sanctuary.

Rachael Newham is the Founder of Christian mental health charity ThinkTwice and the author of memoir and theological reflection on mental illness Learning to Breathe (SPCK)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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