Throughout our daily lives we encounter a variety of emotional situations. Some are within the range of normal human responses that will subside with appropriate coping. Others may represent serious behavior changes that require ongoing attention. It is interesting that very little has been done to prepare missioners for the mental health aspect of healthcare outreach.
Why Should We Care About Mental Health?
- About 20% of the population will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime
- Almost half of physically ill people also have an emotional complaint
- Mental illness negatively affects functioning and decision making, depression has been described as more disabling than many chronic diseases
- Because of stigma, mentally ill people may try to hide their problem
- Often, simple interpersonal interventions can alleviate stressors and prevent negative outcomes
- The incidence of mental health stressors is disproportionately high within most communities targeted by missioners
Identifying Signs of Mental Distress:
Mental distress or illness may be seen in five different areas:
- Physical signs - Aches and pains, headache, neck pain, tense muscles, indigestion, diarrhea
- Feelings/Mood - Feelings are the "inside" emotions that may be displayed through "affect" or the person's expression. Unnatural happiness or sad facial expression may suggest a mood disorder.
- Thinking/Judgment - Evidence of unusual pre-occupation and the inability to exercise proper decision making concerning routine matters.
- Behavior - Sudden behavior change characterized by socially unacceptable or "weird" actions or speech.
- Thinking - Changes in thinking characterized by the person claiming to hear, see, smell, or feel things that others cannot validate.
What to do:
- Check out your observations privately with the local mission host.
- Options, depending on the person and circumstance:
- Say, "I've been noticing that you (describe behavior, i.e., aren't eating, seem sad, are quiet, nervous, etc. etc.) "I'm here if you need to talk".
- Keep the door open and be emotionally available and aware of those who may need help.
- If someone should threaten suicide, calmly thank them for sharing, express your feelings of loss if they should do it and ask if they are getting help or offer to get help for them. If they refuse, then ask them to give you a verbal commitment to contact you or someone else if the feelings become stronger. It is a good idea to ask if the person has a plan /method (actively suicidal) or no plan but wishes for death (passively suicidal). If the situation seems dangerous, get a treatment referral immediately!
- Offer to pray with or for the individual.