From mental health to cruelty to animals
Mental health: the challenge
John Myhill (22 September) abhors possible collusion with the label ‘mental illness’ and the close association of mental illness with mental health.
While making a good case for wariness in diagnosis it is unfortunate that he likens mental health services today to the Inquisition. The Inquisition was a cruel, unjust tool of persecution. As an NHS mental health chaplain working in the acute mental health services I bear witness to the dedication of all staff, psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, and many behind the scenes administrators and managers whose sole purpose is to support, encourage and enable those who suffer with mental illness in their recovery.
Diagnosis has always been a source of debate and controversy. For some diagnosis may exacerbate a sense of rejection, and a feeling of being misunderstood and labelled; for others it is an intense relief to discover that their symptoms and condition have a recognised pattern and name.
For all sufferers and their loved ones a diagnosis is life changing. It is not about separating something that is the concern of us all, but ensuring that those who experience the devastation of mental illness receive well-resourced expertise along the arduous journey of recovery.
I would second Jacqui Poole’s recommendation of the writings of American theologian Marcus Borg (22 September). His book Speaking Christian is a good place to start, offering insights into a wide range of Christian thinking, but other books explore these in more depth. Jesus (2006) – whom the book’s subtitle describes as ‘a religious revolutionary’ – is an excellent overview of the teachings of Jesus, while The First Paul presents a very different, and radical, Paul to the traditional image of a misogynistic dogmatist. I’ve yet to come across a book by Marcus Borg that is not worth the reading.
Why might Marcus Borg, who was an Episcopalian (the American version of Anglican), appeal to Quakers? One reason, I think, is his passion for understanding Christianity as it originated and developed in the first century. He argues that much that passes for ‘traditional’ Christian doctrine is comparatively recent theology, often imposed by church authorities.
Like many in the history of Christianity, he reached back to its earliest documents, attempting to understand what they were saying in their own time and how this speaks to us today. And this, of course, was very much the approach of the early Quakers, so it is not surprising that much of Marcus Borg’s writing resonates with Quakers’ Christian roots.
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