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Mental health in meetings: continuing the conversation

Oliver Waterhouse gives an overview of new steps being taken in 2018 to engage with mental health in Quaker meetings.

Image: Mental health in meetings cluster
Image: Mental health in meetings cluster

Do you know someone who is living with mental distress? With around 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, the chances are that you do – and that it could be someone in your meeting.

Over the past 5 years we have been gathering information from individual Quakers, meetings and carers about their experience of living with – or supporting other people who are living with – mental distress.

Their stories have been often moving, at times inspiring, and always thought-provoking. They underline the many challenges of both dealing with mental distress and balancing the needs of individuals with the needs of the community.

Encounters with mental distress

One way we have tried to help meetings find that balance is by publishing the book Encounters with mental distress: Quaker stories. It shares candid experiences, responses and insights from individual carers and meetings on this theme, and – along with an accompanying leaflet – aims to help people start talking about some of the issues raised in the book that feel most relevant to them.

It is hopefully encouraging meetings to do something very important: have open and non-judgemental conversations on the subject of mental health. These conversations are an opportunity to ask questions that may be challenging but that can help us to understand both other people's actions and behaviours and also our own responses to them.

Further initiatives

To help continue this conversation I'm pleased to say that three more exciting initiatives will be launching early this year:

  • A new workshop for meetings, titled Opening the door to talking about mental health. It lasts two hours and has been designed to be accessible to people with little or no experience or understanding of mental distress. It will be facilitated by trained members of the Mental Health in Meetings Cluster of the Quaker Life Network and follows on from several successful pilot workshops held in 2017 which helped to hone the approach and content.
  • A leaflet that offers more detailed advice and guidance for meetings. A copy will be sent to every Quaker meeting and they will be freely available to order from the Quaker Centre.
  • The creation of a three-year post for a Mental Health Development Worker, who will be a voice for Quaker mental health and work with Quaker groups and individuals to develop a Quaker witness around mental health. This is being funded and run by The Retreat York Benevolent Fund, which also offers Quakers funds for mental health care.

Looking further into 2018 we will continue to develop our work in these areas: for example, expanding the workshop into something to help Quaker role-holders, and working with Woodbrooke on the mental health training that's being offered. If you'd like to get involved you could subscribe to the Mental Health Cluster's email news to keep up-to-date with all Quaker ministry and witness on mental health.

Hopefully these new initiatives will work to further deepen and strengthen a dialogue that is already happening as Quaker meetings continue to develop their understanding of mental health and of how we can support members of our Quaker communities who live with mental distress.

Let's keep talking.

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