Mental Health Day
“There are approximately 6.5 billion people living on planet Earth. Within that number, there are more people living outside their country of origin than at any other time in history. One person out of 35 is an international migrant — 3% of the global population. If we look at our world today, is there any single culture, race or religion that is 100% contained in one single country? We can find dramatically different languages, religions, family relationships and values, as well as views on health care and treatment wherever we go, including in our own respective countries. A female mental health professional born and trained in India may have moved to the United Kingdom and is seeing a male client born and raised in Ecuador — how do they communicate and how do each view the same mental illness?”
look at two particular ways in which these contemporary concerns and our
readings today relate to each other.
Those who suffered from such a contagious disease not only had the physical problems of their illness but also had tremendous social and mental suffering placed upon them. The 10 lepers whom Jesus healed would have found some measure of solace in each other’s company, but imagine how distressing it must have been to be chased out of their homes and communities and thought of as life-threatening, dirty, possibly even being punished by God for some unconfessed sins! It was a terrible stigma.
health may not be contagious like leprosy was thought to be in Bible times,
but it does often carry a stigma with it. People who suffer from bad mental
health may often have the added problems of being isolated, lonely, misunderstood
and shunned by normal society. We find mentally ill people difficult to
relate to, difficult to cope with or contain within normal relationships.
When we come to look into the Bible we find cultural differences play a key role in some of the stories. Naaman came from a proud nation, the Arameans who lived in the area we now know as Syria. They had two grand rivers: the Arbana and Pharpar and were obviously powerful in a military sense, as they kept raiding their smaller neighbours, the Israelites. But the Israelites had a great man of God, Elisha, the successor of Elijah, and he was thought to possess great powers. So it was that when Naaman discovered his illness, his foreign servant girl, a captive from a raid, recommended her master take a trip to Elisha. Part of the comedy of this story is that the king of Israel completely misunderstood the reason for this particular visit of Naaman and thought that it was simply a different kind of military raid. Then Naaman misunderstood Elisha’s response – thinking that the prophet should have come out and done some grand and mysterious ceremony. Instead, Elisha was to exercise simple faith and wash himself in the small and unimpressive river Jordan. Through his healing Naaman’s attitude towards the culture of Israel was changed: Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”.
Cross-cultural misunderstandings and expectations also play a role in the gospel story. Leprosy had forced 10 men together and at least one of them was different – he was a Samaritan – a point which may be lost on us, but the implication is that he was the one least expected to return and show any kind of gratitude! Jesus praised him for his new-found faith: rather like Naaman finding faith in Israel’s God in an unexpected way.
of the message of this year’s world mental health day is to bring
to us an awareness of the cross-cultural aspects to mental health. We
live in a city where there are many minority cultures. We may not be directly
involved with health provision, but as Christians we are called to be
aware of the needs of our neighbours whoever they may be. Here are some
questions addressed to European health services that help us to see the
cultural aspects to the provision of mental health care:
Copyright © Rev Paul Smith