Oct. 2-8 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Here's an advance look at a relevant article we'll be publishing in our Nov/Dec issue.
Serene synth chords, then fade to leafy green maple. “Psalm 42:1–2” appears on-screen, replaced by the words, “as a deer longs for flowing streams.” A baritone male voice reads the psalm as the text appears, on cue, over a calm, flowing stream.
That’s the opening to the first video of the Sanctuary Course, newly redone by Sanctuary Mental Health in Vancouver and launched online in May 2022 (SanctuaryMentalHealth.org/Sanctuary-Course).
The video series features interview subjects telling their own stories of mental illness, faith and healing, interspersed with experts commenting on the subjects’ journeys through psychiatric treatment and Christian spirituality. Coursebooks and discussion guides accompany each of the videos, organized into sessions on eight topics that include stigma, companionship and self-care.
Sanctuary CEO Daniel Whitehead says the course is designed to ease churches into difficult discussions about mental health and illness. He says many church communities “don’t even know where to begin” having conversations on these difficult topics.
The course “basically says, ‘Let us hold your hand,’ ” he explains. “Let us start a really great and safe conversation about mental health and how your faith integrates with that. The goal of the course is to give churches a shared framework and a shared language to know how to talk about this, and hold this in an ongoing way.”
Whitehead says the purpose of the course is to help churches become communities where those experiencing mental illness can find companionship through their healing journey.
“The Church needs to become a place where all people feel supported and loved and seen,” he says. “We need counsellors, psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists,” but the message of the Sanctuary course is that “the Church has a unique role alongside those professions to offer spiritual friendship and hope to people in the midst of their various challenges and lived experiences.”
His hope for the course is that it helps people know the healing power of God’s spiritual friendship. “We wanted to ensure that in the course we don’t deny the pain, but we still speak to the hope of the gospel. In our suffering and struggle, we have a God who enters into it with us, not to push us or pull us, but to walk with us into that hope-filled reality that Jesus is making all things new.”
Since the original course went online in 2018, about 165,000 people in 60 countries have taken part in Sanctuary’s online programming, according to a recent press release.
Whitehead says the team is currently working on plans to expand beyond the original course. He describes modules that go into more detail about diagnoses and experiences, such as bipolar disorder, burnout, anxiety and depression. The intent is for these modules to be a next step for those who have completed the original course and want to learn more.
Currently the Sanctuary site offers the original course, another version tailored to Roman Catholic contexts and a short module on mental health and the pandemic. Whitehead says the new modules will hopefully launch toward the end of 2023.
Note: The Faith Today Podcast has an episode coming in late January 2023 that features an interview with Daniel Whitehead. Subscribe to our podcast to get all the episodes automatically, or to see if this episode is available visit FaithToday.ca/Podcasts.