Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!—Psalm 126:5
I have gone to presentations on the warning signs to look for in a person who may be exhibiting a mental health condition. I have gone to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program which is very heavy on how we can notice the signs and symptoms of mental illness: depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, and eating disorders. And I keep the crisis line telephone numbers in my cell phone.
But when my son was in a manic state over 29 years ago,I did not understand what was going on. He was cooperative when I took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed within a couple days for bipolar. People who live with mental health issues are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to be violent themselves. People who live with mental health issues are less likely than the population as a whole to be violent. I didn’t know any of that then. I did not know what bipolar was. It has taken me years and especially over the past 11 years as a volunteer to become a mental health advocate. Along with MHFA , NAMI’s “Family to Family” program was illuminating and gave me relief to understand what was going on.
So over the past many years, I have come to hear many stories of people who have themselves realized they were dealing with a mental health crisis or those who are close to them have also realized this. Seeing and understanding the behavioral changes in a person’s life can be one of the first steps in order to find the treatment and to learn how to manage these disorders. This is all to the good. I am appreciative of all the resources that are now available so we can provide hope and healing with those who are living with mental illness.
However, cruising the web, I came across a different list, a list of the “12 Warnings Signs of Wellness.” If you are wrapped up in the mental health field, especially as it intersects with spirituality/faith, you may feel like you don’t have time left over for just enjoying the pleasure of joy. There is just so much pain that goes along with mental illness. Many of us are serious, we are passionately committed to living with compassion, we are dedicated to knowing more about mental health challenges, and we are disappointed by the paucity of attention paid to the benefits of spirituality and faith as one resource in one’s recovery from mental health disorders. Seeing the gaps in the mental health system itself, let alone the inattention by faith communities to ministering with persons who are living with mental illnesses, I can get discouraged. That discouragement can erode the joy of simple being.
Therefore, it is with some joy that I share the list of the warning signs of wellness which I found on the web.
THE 12 WARNING SIGNS OF WELLNESS*
1. Regular flare-ups of a supportive network of friends and family.
2. Chronic positive expectations.
3. Repeated episodes of gratitude and generosity.
4. Increased appetite for physical activity.
5. Marked tendency to identify and express feelings.
6. Compulsion to contribute to society.
7. Lingering sensitivity to the feelings of others.
8. Habitual behavior related to seeking new challenges.
9. Craving for peak experiences.
10. Tendency to adapt to changing conditions.
11. Feelings of spiritual involvement.
12. Persistent sense of humor.
*Adapted from a posting on a computer bulletin board in Waldport, Oregon, author unidentified. Reprinted in Whole Earth Review (Winter 1994), a compendium of brash thinking and lofty ideas.
Perhaps each of us can take one of these signs, and acting as if it were a pill, swallow it and live it even for a short part of a day. As they say, practice makes perfect. Building on these foundations, perhaps I can rekindle that spirit of joy in my days, too, as I continue to be a strong mental health advocate. As a theologian has written, “Joy is the one infallible sign of the presence of God.” (deChardin) It is not denial of the reality of the pain and the loss and the confusion in mental illness. But perhaps on occasion, we can remember– “Don’t postpone joy.” That may be an encouragement and may be a hope.
Rev. Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson is a mental health advocate who served on the national United Church Board of Homeland Ministries, 1979-1995, retired as chaplain at The Children’s Hospital, Denver, and is a past chair of the UCC Mental Health Network board of directors.