Monday, March 05, 2012

Mental Illness

I served my first curacy in a parish which included what was then known as a Mental Health Unit. Mapperley Hospital in the 1980s was much improved on the days when it had been the city asylum (it was just outside the boundary of the city of Nottingham) but it was still ghastly. There were some long-term institutionalised people there who had probably only been suffering from conditions as simple and treatable as post-natal depression when admitted years earlier.

The good people of Mapperley were well used to turning the pyjama-clad round and walking them back towards the hospital. A green young curate was once heckled, in a Sunday service, by a woman who asked 'Are you circumcised?' That is not an apocryphal tale; I was the curate.

In Leamington Spa a centre for people with extreme learning difficulties was just down the road from my house and one of the other houses in the road was occupied by a group of people with problems who were learning to live in community. All those I met, or greeted, were delightful.

I grew up with an aunt who lived with us. She had a mental age of about twelve following childhood meningitis. I remember expressing some surprise at Primary School that this was not a normal family arrangement.

So I have experience of living with those who are mentally ill and the learning disadvantaged. I know enough to know I know nothing.

The phone rang the other day and a member of one of my local congregations, who I have just got to know, asks if she can make an appointment to see me. When I enquire after the reason she explains she has a number of difficulties including some mental illness and so I politely pass and suggest her professional helpers will be better able to deal with her. I also suggest that others in the church who already know her might provide pastoral care.

The good thing about knowing a little about something is actually realising how little you know. Many clergy think they know everything about everything; I know almost nothing about everything. But I know just enough to know what I don't know and when not to get involved. Us priests like to feel we are wanted; in the face of that it is often good to check if we are needed.

No comments: