One of the great gifts of being in Christian community is celebrating the love that surrounds us on every side. And yet, many of our sisters and brothers suffer from isolation, even in the context of the Christian body, because of mental illness and associated stigma.
In a new blog called Unorthodox and Unhinged, the Rev. Joani Peacock, priest associate at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va and a librarian at the Bishop Payne Library at Virginia Theological Seminary, tells her story. As an Episcopalian living with bipolar disorder, Joani describes herself as a “mental health evangelist” whose aim is to highlight the need for mental health awareness in parishes and communities of faith.
In addition to Unorthodox and Unhinged, Episcopalians elsewhere are speaking out, educating, and taking concrete steps to honor the dignity of every human being with mental illness. Holy Comforter in Atlanta, whose day center serves people with mental illness and other disabilities, combats stigma with open arms; today, nearly two-thirds of parishioners have a mental illness. At the diocesan level, the Diocese of Virginia’s Committee on Mental Health is one of the most visible and well-organized efforts by lay and ordained Episcopalians to provide resources for parishes who want to start a recovery ministry.
In the mental healthcare field, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, an Episcopalian from Baltimore, is the Co-Director of the Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University and serves as the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders. The author of many books, including “An Unquiet Mind” and “Exuberance: the Passion for Life,” Jamison often deals with the spiritual dimension of mental illness in her writing.
For Rev. Peacock, the people of Holy Comforter, Dr. Jamison, and many others, this is the edge of a frontier for those who suffer from a mental illness and remain “in the closet.” In Christian communities, health and wholeness is possible when Christ’s love and courage-along with awareness and community support-becomes more important than shame and fear.