Listening and learning
Anglicare works with people from all walks of life, each with their own unique experiences and perspectives.
We are committed to listening to and learning from those we serve. In this interview, we meet Jean* a client with a program that supports people recovering from mental illness.
How would you describe yourself?
I am thirty years old. I work casually and study at university doing a master's degree. I am very passionate about consumer advocacy and social justice in general. I am an incredibly enthusiastic person by nature, about all kinds of things. I am funny and fun.
What are some of the key experiences that have shaped your life?
From my mid-teens until I was about 25 I suffered from undiagnosed bi-polar type 1, which was severe mania followed by very severe depressions. The bi-polar came first and then I self-medicated with marijuana and alcohol. My family and I were somewhat in denial and very uneducated about mental illness.
Looking back we have a lot of regret that I wasn't diagnosed much earlier. I'd done extremely ‘out there' things, unbelievable things. Because I'd let it go so long I then spent three or four years in and out of hospital, very, very, very sick. I had one serious suicide attempt. It took 30 medications, three hospitals, six psychiatrists before I moved on to real care, holistic care.
What do you put your faith in?
I had to put my faith in myself and trust that I could do it by myself. But I also had to trust that there was something holding me up that was more than myself. I had been looking for a person to do that for me and no human being can, on their own, fix someone completely. So I had to trust that there was a reason behind this; that I was given this life experience to learn something.
It has taught me about all sorts of discriminations and people who are marginalised. I have gained a lot from it but I had to come through a process before I could reach this point. Before that I just hated it, every aspect of it. I was full of rage. I was raging against the people who were caring for me. Even the idea of a God, I was raging against it because I was like ‘how dare they do this to me, how dare this happen to me'. I had to kind of flip it around.
Do you think the church has a role in supporting people who have mental illness?
I was brought up atheist then in my teens I went to church. But the church just couldn't ... I just didn't fit. In the end I was treated quite badly and fell away. I still have discussions with my brother about Jesus and what it all means. I don't know where I sit with that currently. It is certainly something I think about.
The fundamental ‘do to others as you'd have them do to you' and all that stuff, absolutely, there are lots of things I take comfort in. I have a Bible. It is all there but it is just ... it was the way I was treated by the congregation. They thought I was just an attention-seeking teenager.
What could be done better?
It's about early intervention and people being aware. In every congregation one in four people potentially has a mental illness. The church's values are about caring and supporting one another, valuing people and guiding each other through hard times.
As far as I can tell, Jesus wouldn't be hanging out with politicians and the Pope if he was here today. He'd be hanging out with the drug addicts and the prostitutes and the people with mental illness.
I think there needs to be true empathy. It's difficult when the church has such strong stances on things like homosexuality and suicide. Even if they don't agree with something, there needs to be empathy and sensitivity in dealing with matters like that.
I think people need to be educated, particularly the church leaders. What I encountered were a lot of young leaders who were not equipped to deal with this kind of stuff. Good knowledge of the Bible, but not much in the way of life experience or qualifications or understanding of social problems.
My issue is not with Jesus. It is with the church as a set. In a lot of ways it's just become so narrow that it's forgotten some of the basic things that Jesus taught about empathy and understanding. He was there for the really downtrodden. They were the ones he was with. He didn't tell them to ‘buck up'. He made miracles.
Obviously a congregation can't fix my bi-polar but they can be there for me.
*Not her real name