Evergreen Heights responds to mental illness

For people struggling with a wide range of mental health disorders, such as bipolar, depression, and anxiety, Evergreen Heights Christian Fellowship in Simcoe, Ontario is now offering a weekly support group.

“People with a mental illness are ill. They require prayer. And, like anyone who is not feeling well, they also require love, support, and understanding,” said Richard Martens, pastor at Evergreen.

In the past, individuals with mood disorders had few people they could talk to openly, so great was the social stigma. It was a silent illness to everyone but those who were struggling and coping with day-to-day issues. However, that negative stereotype seems to be changing – albeit slowly.

The MB Herald recognized the issue in a July 2008 article entitled “When mental illness arrives in the pews.” Joanne Klassen, director of Recovery of Hope, wrote, “When we have the courage to speak about bipolar disorder and mental health compassionately, intelligently, and publicly, we begin to make our congregations safe places.”

That is what Richard and his wife Laura are trying to do at Evergreen. “Our family’s journey with mental health started a dozen years ago when my wife was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder,” said Martens. “Since that time, God has directed our path, as well as providing the help of a Christian psychiatrist. As a result, all those experiences have shaped our lives and our ministry.”

Starting in fall 2008, the Evergreen group meets once a week. They are using Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, to guide and direct their discussion. Another resource they find useful is a mental health self-help program called The Living Room, which is also being used by Highland (MB) Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C.

The word is out – when mental illness arrives in the pews of MB churches, church leaders and volunteers are finding ways to provide the support that is needed. Places like Evergreen Heights are leading the way.

—Sandra Crux

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