FIRST-PERSON: Mental health & the Newtown tragedy
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (BP) -- The innocents of Newtown, Connecticut, 20 beautiful children, will never flower. We will never see the doctor, teacher or athlete who could have been. And six adults lost their lives seeking to protect them and their classmates.
The loss is unimaginable. We grieve from a distance. The families and community grieve intimately.
And then it begins. Those who would make political hay out of this tragedy now have an opportunity to press their perspective on such issues as gun control with new fervor.
Over the weekend, however, I saw an article on the Internet, "Thinking the Unthinkable," by a mother dealing with mental health crisis in her home, struggling desperately to care for her son who is ill while also struggling with the ramifications for herself and her other children.
"In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns," the mother wrote. "... It's time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That's the only way our nation can ever truly heal."
I agree with her that it is time. How many more tragedies must we have before we consider the issue of mental health in America? And closer to home, how many more tragedies must we endure before we consider the role of the church for families in mental health crisis?
How should the church engage these issues -- not just after they happen but before they happen? What would Jesus do? We are His body. What should we do?
We need to understand better what happens when a mental health challenge and evil meet, what happens when disability mingles with sin. We see the devastating results. We need to consider what we can do to prevent them from occurring.
Mental health concerns are hidden disabilities that don't show any physical marker on the outside. There is no wheelchair, no assistance dog that might indicate that this is an individual who might require assistance or accommodation. Hidden disabilities cover the autism spectrum as well as encompassing those with mental health concerns such as bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and those with neurological concerns such as epilepsy or Tourette's. Each of these disabilities is deeply life-affecting for the individual and the family who loves him or her. For a more detailed understanding of these disabilities, visit ChosenFamilies.org.
Clearly there are distinctions between those on the autism spectrum, those with mental health concerns and those with neurological disorders. But the thing they have in common is they each are hidden from obvious view. They tend to be misunderstood. We don't know how to respond to them. They make us uncomfortable.
We tend to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable. We are busy. Our calendars are full. Full of good things. Important priorities.
I am reminded of the man who fell into trouble as he went to Jericho. The church leaders who saw him did not throw a rock at him. They did not curse him. They took no deliberate action to harm him.
They just walked past on the other side of the road.
Jesus commended the man who stopped, took notice and got involved. He said the good Samaritan was our example of how to respond. We need to stop, take notice, and get involved. This is not about programs, though programs may be fine. This is about personal engagement.
We are called as the body of Christ to engage the fallen and broken world with the grace and power of the Gospel of Christ. That includes those with mental health concerns.
Shannon Royce is president of ChosenFamilies.org, a nonprofit organization for families living with hidden disabilities. She is an attorney, marathoner and cancer survivor who lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C. area. A Southern Baptist preacher's kid, Royce formerly worked with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.