Today is World Mental Health Day. Our Monday Morning Worship Service at the Ecumenical Center this morning was dedicated to this cause. Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former prime minister of Norway, now the President of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, came to deliver the morning’s message. He is actually scheduled to speak at the WHO but took the time to come to the Ecumenical Center with a very interesting and important thing to say.
In 1998, a year after he became the prime minister of Norway, Mr. Bondevik was not feeling well at all. In fact he felt empty and had no energy to get out of bed one day. He was very close to resigning from his position. A friend came over with a psychiatrist and Mr. Bondevik was diagnosed with having a depressive episode. Problem is, a very important budget meeting was scheduled to be held in a few days. He was certainly not in a condition to attend it. A press release had to be drafted to explain the prime minister’s absence. Mr. Bondevik took a bold move by actually telling the press his diagnosis. He became the highest ranking world reader to admit to having a mental health issue while in office. He proceded to take a 3 weeks break during which he received all kinds of support from friends, families, the church and the community. He then returned to his position and even got re-elected for the next period.
The message that Mr. Bondevik has based on this experience is the need to abolish the stigma that makes mental health issues a taboo in society. He says, “if you have a broken leg, it will be visible and everyone will see it and you can tell the story about it. If you have a ‘broken leg’ inside, you should be able to tell the story about it as well.”
Mr. Bondevik quotes 1 Corinthians 12: 12 — Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. The brain is part of the body, thus mental health should be treated in the same way we treat any other physical ilnesses. It should be recognized and handled with care.
I end this post by quoting the lament/prayer we said together this morning:
We lament for the discrimination and stigma perpetuated on those suffering from mental illness. We lament the lack of access to basic mental health care and treatment. We lament our complicity with wider society in allowing callous behaviours that infringe on the fundamental rights of people, silence open discussions and suppress understanding and prevent solutions to mental health challenges.
We must commit to greater engagement with the issue of mental healt. We must promote a contextual and affirming interpretation of our holy scriptures. We must combat stigma and affirm the dignity of all those suffering from mental illness. We must embody caring and compassionate values that speak out loud and clear.