Mental Illness: Our Community’s Journey to Understanding, Compassion, and Hope
Presented at the 2014 National Philoptochos Biennial Convention in Philadelphia, PA
The goal of this program was the first step towards enabling us to develop actions that will create in our Church “mental health stigma-free zones” – places where all members of a community are regarded equally. The program offered eye-opening statistics and information about the prevalence of mental illness in society and our community, its impact on family members, cultural interpretations of demonic possession and exorcisms, and proposed actions that we, as a faith-based community, can take to ensure that we treat all of our brothers and sisters – regardless how “different” we may consider them to be — with love, kindness, and hope.
Demetria Delia, PH.D., LCSW, MA
Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Social Worker Supervisor, Family Services in Morristown, NJ. Private Practitioner in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy
Christina Kallas, ESQ.
Practicing Attorney and Mediator. Former President, New York Women’s Bar Association. Member of NYWBA Advisory Council and on the Board of its Foundation.
Rev. Protopresbyter Nicholas G. Anctil
Proistamenos, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, New Rochelle, NY; President, Archdiocesan Presbyters Council
Moderator: Paulette Geanacopoulos, LMSW
Director, Department of Social Work, National Philoptochos
Below are highlights from the presentations. For a full summary of the presentations, questions and answers and available resources, please Click Here.
Understanding Mental Illness, presented by Demetria DeLia, Ph.D., LCSW, MA
Mental illness is a deeply complex issue that can be difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat. It can be caused by a combination of factors including genes inherited from our ancestors, trauma, environmental or emotional experiences, and temperament.
Avoiding the problem of mental illness can lead to self-medicating with illegal drugs or illicitly obtained prescription drugs. This response complicates the issue, as it adds a secondary diagnosis of substance abuse to the person’s illness.
Medication compliance is often difficult, stressing that many patients stop taking prescribed drugs because of unpleasant side effects, while others stop when they begin to feel better, thinking they are “well”. Because mentally ill persons are protected by law even if they have a history of self-destructive or violent behavior, they cannot be forced to take medication even when we know that their disordered thinking is causing them to refuse the drugs.
Impact of Mental Illness on the Family, presented by Christina Kallas, ESQ
Families experience feelings of overwhelming responsibility, exhaustion, frustration, anger, hurt, stress, chaotic family life, loyalty, loneliness, and tremendous concerns about what will happen to the child when the parents no longer can care for him or her. Parent(s) may feel guilt whether because of genetics or not knowing whether the mental illness stems from something the parent(s) did or did not do. Some family members become enablers while others blame themselves or their spouse or their in-laws for their child’s condition. It is in the best interest of the child for both parents to be consistent and “in synch” regarding how to deal with their child.
‘Casseroles’ v ‘Criticism’ – There is a clear distinction in our community’s responses to mental illness: families of those with a physical illness are likely to be supported and visited, while those whose children or other family members suffer from mental illness often encounter criticism and rejection.
Early acknowledgment that a family member is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness should be regarded as a loud call to seek professional evaluation and consultation, not only so that parents can seek help for their child but also for themselves.
Family support groups help relatives understand, cope, and deal with their child’s mental illness in a safe environment comprising others encountering similar issues. These groups are places to obtain accurate information about their relative’s condition; they allow family members to speak about their feelings in a non-judgmental, non-critical setting and are a resource for brainstorming about what has and hasn’t worked among the other families in the group.
One should focus on the person rather than the disease. “You may never know why your child is ill. You may feel guilt or intense grief, but you need to hunker down and get help. And you need to understand that there is no ritual in life that allows you to publicly mourn your lost dreams for your child”.
Supporting the Journey Through Faith & Hope; presented by Rev. Protopresbyter Nicholas G. Anctil
In the past, much of our religious instruction came from our mothers and grandmothers who taught us what they had learned about illness — both mental or physical — from a perspective that somehow laid blame for the illnesses on the sins of the person; that perhaps even God Himself was imposing some kind of punishment as was done to Adam and Eve in the Garden as a result of their disobedience.
Today, though, our perspective is that God is love; God brings healing; God brings restitution — not sickness, death, and disease. “The Church is a hospital” — a place of healing, a place for people to come and be restored and strengthened in their struggle to be God’s people.
If we truly believe that the Church is a hospital, we must believe that we are body and soul, physical and mental beings. We believe in God yet we are tempted by the devil in our day-to-day struggle to live Godly lives. The Church acknowledges all that is inside of us, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Our collective role should be one of acknowledgment, acceptance, prayer, compassion, and understanding. Each of us needs to be one that shows love towards those with mental illness and to their family members who stand actively and quietly by their sides. Assure families of those with mental illness that these afflictions should be treated exactly like physical illness and that secrecy only complicates our ability to offer assistance and support.
It is crucial to support the caregivers of family members affected by mental illness. Churches can reach out to and partner with local therapists to ensure that their services are conducted with sensitivity to the characteristics unique to our community including our perspectives of religion, faith, and spirituality. Philoptochos Chapters can sponsor and assist family support groups led by local mental health professionals to help families deal with their relatives’ sensitive situations.
“A beautiful synergy of God and persons working together will bring about the best situation of living a life of acceptance and understanding in dealing with God’s most precious and final creation: human beings like you and me.”
Again, for a full summary of the program, questions and answers and available resources, please go to this LINK. Additional information and resources are available on our Social Services page.
Click here for the Summary of Each Panelist’s Presentation.
Click here for the Responses to the Questions Submitted by Audience Members.