12 May 2021

Mental health chaplaincy

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Ian Cartwright shares his own personal experience of mental health issues and his approach to mental health chaplaincy

My name is Ian Cartwright and I have been a Methodist for over forty years.

One of the main things I value most is our holistic approach to ministry and mission. By holistic I mean our ministry and mission engages with the whole person, mentally, emotionally. physically, spiritually, socially, and economically.

It is also interesting that these six areas of our humanity effect or mental wellbeing for good or not so good. We all have mental health. For some people like myself we are vulnerable to mental illness. In my case I am prone to depression, anxiety, and burnout. For other people it could be for example, eating disorders, psychosis, self-harm, or addiction.

As a Church we are well placed to support people who struggle with mental illness by being aware of mental illness, being compassionate and caring and offering support to those who struggle with their mental health.

I have always believed that at the heart of our ministry and mission is caring. Caring is the glue that holds all the good work we do week in and week out in our churches and through our churches into the local communities that we serve.

I am passionate about the church being a caring and compassionate place for all. Nowhere is the need for caring and compassion to be expressed more today than in the area of mental health.

When I was really struggling with my depression and anxiety, I found it very difficult to find anything suitable from a Christian perspective to help me. I had loads of personal support, but I wanted to understand my illness through a Christian lens.

So, as I began to get better, I felt called to turn my personal darkness into a ministry of light for those who are living with the darkness of their unique mental illness.

This ministry began by simply talking about my illness. I decided to talk about my depression like any other illness. I felt so liberated because I realised, I was helping to break down the stigma that is associated with mental illness.

In time I was invited to become a volunteer mental health chaplain at the local hospital.  I was able to listen to people non-judgementally because of my own lived experience of depression.

This voluntary position turned into a paid chaplaincy role.

I now serve as a mental health chaplain for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. Most of the patients I support come through referrals from the various community health teams and GP practises who have received a diagnosis of mental illness in some form.

I have recently become a Mental Health First Aid instructor and training people to become mental health first aiders in their local communities and workplaces.

I am also in the process of writing personal and home group Bible study materials on mental health.

So, for me the words of Charles Wesley are very apt

"Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and natures night.

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose went forth and followed Thee."

Find out more about Ian Cartwright's work here.

Mental Health Awareness Week this year is all about the importance of connecting with nature. Find some tips on how to do this from the Mental Health Foundation

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