Mental Health/Mental Illness: Is The AA Church Open For Change or Closed To Its Dilemma?

By Interfaith Gazette Staff

Much has been said about the dilemma facing people with mental illness but it does not appear that much has been done throughout communities across this country, and especially the CHURCH, to address this apparent insurmountable issue. All too often eyes are closed to the world of Mental Health and the illness, implications, and stigma that are attached to it. The National Alliance of Mental Illness, NAMI, states that nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness each year.

Some believe that Mental illness is taboo in the church and the African American community. In the eyes of some whom have faced challenges and struggles with their loved ones, it is definitely a barrier that can turn into a nightmare if it goes ignored. This became a reality for Pastor Timothy and Felica Clarke, who Pastors the Harvest Christian Center, but even more than that, is the father of a son who struggles with mental illness. Pastor Clarke states that when we talk about mental illness, that it really does not strike you until it hits your house, that often times one's eyes are closed when others are experiencing it. He further believes that when you see family members struggling with extreme behaviors that this is a time to seek out help for that individual. Lady Felica believes that the challenges that a family deals with are frustrating if you close your mind to what you have seen down through the years and refuse to see it for what it is.

Pastor Clarke states that the difficulty comes when the new mental illness embraces the face of intellectuality. His son is very intellectual and offered extreme challenges for them because of his intelligence. He shares his belief in God and his faith that took him to a place to experience “casting out demons” that initially gave him his preemption about his son's eradication of this illness. He further realized that one of the variables that may exist is when there is a chemical imbalance that can cause extreme behaviors in individuals; he saw this in his son. Lady Felica believes that since they are people with strong faith, that their encounters with their son's behaviors rest solely on what the power of God could do for them. However, they recognized that there was something more going on, as was identified in his perception of whom he thought he was, a witch. They don't believe that God did it to him, rather that God is using it for good because they are able to have conversations with people of faith about it now. Some of which she says still don't believe. She further states that people will take a pill for everything else but when it comes to mental illness they won't do it. Lady Felica attributes this to the years of slavery and how faith played a role in believing that if God brought a people through those Jim Crow days, that he certainly would handle mental illness of a family member; that we think of it as a weakness instead of an illness.

Both Pastor Clarke and Lady Felica believes that self medication and masking can be problematic if it goes unnoticed. The African American Church has to break the silence and be open and willing to speak out and ask for help when mental illness is eminent in one's family. He believes that PRIDE is an issue in the AA community. Asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength. He believes that “ you have to act in faith and then act on your faith “. Shame cannot be the determining factor when it comes to mental illness. It is real and can be devastating if not taken serious and looked at it for what it is.

Their thoughts about barriers in leadership in the AA church in an effort to break the silence, reveals that this generation is calling for authenticity and transparency, and therefore those who are willing to acknowledge it will eventually accept the challenge to speak out about it, with the intent to change the mindset believing that breaking the silence will open the door for change. He believes that the new generation is able to deal with it better because they talk about it.

When asked about a remedy or solution for the dilemma, Lady Felica believes that the cultures of organizations and the culture of the churches need to collaborate understanding each others language. Each operates differently because of what they believe to be appropriate and fitting in dealing with mental illness. She believes that two factors that contribute to this is ignorance and possibly mis-trust. However, being open to dialogue with the intent to change, modify, and alter thinking, has to be the key if there is going to be a change in the AA church and community.

It is with a strong commitment that Pastor Clarke and Lady Felica advocates for families who are willing to seek out resources for a loved one with a mental illness. They believe that every family has someone who experiences this condition and are encouraged to support and openly communicate what their needs are, with the sole intent to be Open For Change and to get rid of the Dilemma!

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