Recently I watched the animated film “Encanto” with my family. The story centers around young Mirabel as she struggles to find her place in a large family, the Madrigals, where she feels like she doesn’t belong. When it comes to emotional, mental, and spiritual health, telling our stories is a powerful way to recover our sense of belonging.
I personally related to Mirabel’s feelings of wanting to figure out how she could help her loved ones. She was tuned into the intergenerational pain and suffering of every member of her family. She could feel the pain in her body/mind/spirit, but she didn’t understand the causes behind it. She didn’t know the stories behind the pain because they weren’t openly talked about in the family. Holding all the family tensions inside herself left Mirabel with little time or energy to focus on herself. The film is about Mirabel’s quest for answers as she waits for a miracle.
For families where there are generations of family members who live with mental health challenges, brain diseases, and other illnesses, like Mirabel, we can be easily overwhelmed by the emotional toll of trying to be the one who solves all the problems. The stress is even more intense when there are secrets and silence about the stories of illness and trauma in the family.
As I consider this film through the lens of WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged) for mental health, I wonder what it would look like for family caregivers to be invited to focus on caring for themselves and their wellbeing, even as they feel called to care for others? What would it look like to not just invite, but support, empower, and equip caregivers to tend to their own mental health and emotional wellbeing?
For faith communities seeking to be WISE for mental health, what would it look like to model caregiver support for families impacted by mental illness? Peer support groups and spiritual support groups are powerful tools to help the Mirabels among us who internalize the pain of the people around them. Mental illness and mental health challenges are family diseases and disorders. All of us are impacted, including church families.
I encourage you to watch the film with others and reflect upon it through the lens of mental health. In addition to Mirabel, there are other characters in the film that we can observe as living with symptoms of common mental health struggles, such as Bruno who hears voices and Luisa who experiences anxiety. I shed a few tears at the end of “Encanto,” wiping my face with the sleeve of my sweatshirt before the lights came back on. I felt relieved that the story didn’t end the way it started. Our stories can change. We can change. This is what hope looks like for me: being open to experiencing healing from our stories of intergenerational trauma.
Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund (she/her/hers)
Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund (she/her/hers) serves on the national staff of the United Church of Christ as Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice. She also serves as senior pastor of First Congregational UCC of Indianapolis, IN. Sarah is the author of the acclaimed and best selling books “Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and the Church“ (Chalice Press, 2014) and “Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage (Chalice Press, 2021). She blogs at www.sarahgriffithlund.com.