What are Quakers doing about mental health?
Quaker mental health group
The Quaker Mental Health Group brings together groups that have some involvement in mental health in our yearly meeting. The group has representatives from seven different organisations. It was formed in 2015 after the Towards a Quaker View of Mental Health conference. The organisations involved in the group are:
- Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD)
- Quaker Disability Equality Group (QDEG)
- Quaker Life
- The Retreat Benevolent Fund
- The Retreat York
- Young Friends General Meeting (YFGM)
Quaker Action on Mental Health (QAMH)
This is a newly forming group thinking about our Quaker ministry on mental health. Its work might involve campaigning, speaking out and looking at wider issues in society.
Contact Alison Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Mental health in our meetings leaflet
The Mental health in our meetings leaflet (PDF) gives information to help meet the needs of the individual in distress. The viewpoint of the carer and the wider community are explored. There are 'queries' to enable Friends to think about the issues arising.
Encounters with mental distress: Quaker stories
This book shares Quakers' experiences of mental distress. You can buy Encounters with mental distress: Quaker stories from the Quaker bookshop website.
Your Quaker community can use the Encounters accompaniment leaflet (PDF) to explore themes in the book.
Mental health conversations
Mental health conversations (PDF) explores Quaker witness on mental health. It is based on conversations with 23 Quakers who have lived experience of mental distress. Read about The elephant in the room in the Quaker blog written alongside the conversations project.
Quaker Life Representative Council
Quaker Life Representative Council's theme in October 2019 was mental health. A series of films were made during the event with Friends describing their experience of the workshops and activities that were offered.
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Quaker Life Representative Council films
The boundaries game workshop
Caring for carers workshop
Experiment with Light workshop
Faith in community workshop
Living with anxiety workshop
Snakes and ladders workshop
Get in touch with Bev Smith: email@example.com if you would like more information about this theme and how you might run activities in your community.
Workshops and training
Mental Health in our Meetings course for role holders
Mental Health in our Meetings runs each year at Woodbrooke. It helps Friends with responsibility for eldership and oversight find good ways of responding to mental distress in their community.
Opening the door to talking about mental health workshop
A two and a half hour workshop facilitated by Quaker Life staff and Quaker volunteers. It helps to get your community talking about mental health issues in a safe and relaxed way. It uses extracts from the Encounters with mental distress book to open up discussion and two interactive games designed to get Friends talking about mental health.
Mental Health Cluster email
A regular email with information on events and activities about Quakers and mental health. Subscribe to the mental health cluster email.
Young people's mental health
YQspace is a website for young Quakers where there are details of activities, events and opportunities for young people to get involved. The YQspace mind section gives suggestions for supporting young people's mental health. Links to organisations that offer support are available.
Mental Health Empowering Meetings Project Officer
For further advice and guidance on areas of mental health in meetings you can contact Bev Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7663 1177.
Spirituality and mental health
Quakerism has a foundational basis within the Christian tradition. There is much that can be learnt from looking at the life of Jesus when it comes to consideration of mental distress.
Quaker faith & practice and mental health
George Fox, known as the founder of Quakers, encouraged us to think about 'What canst thou say?' The writings of Friends have been brought together in our book of discipline: Quaker faith & practice (Qf&p). In Qf&p there is a wealth of material to help and advise us when we are in mental distress.
Mental distress, despair, depression and darkness within
- James Nayler, Caroline Fox and Gordon Matthews have helpful things to say about feelings of despair, depression and darkness.
- Isaac Pennington offers very helpful advice on how troubling and distressing thoughts often accompany us when we are in mental distress.
- Edward Grubb suggests a helpful way of viewing mental distress.
- We can learn from the wisdom of Fortunato Castillo about sadness. Their experience tells how difficult a feeling it can be to bear and gives ways to embrace it.
Acceptance of ourselves
Sometimes everyone struggles to accept both our light and our dark sides. This can then lead to emotional discomfort and mental distress. We can also be driven by a desire to 'fix' rather than accept. There is much wisdom on this topic from Friends.
- This passage from George Fox on light and dark co-existing within us is helpful. Jo Farrow explores the image of the ocean of darkness and death and being surrounded by an infinite ocean of love and light. She reflects on the unconscious mind and the importance of not trying to live up to some ideal of goodness. We need to let go of our addiction to perfectionism in order to truly live. As Anna Bidder suggests we are all a mixture of good and bad. Acceptance of the whole is key to well-being.
- The psychoanalyst Carl Jung argued that we all have a shadow side where we hide the parts of ourselves that we deem to be unacceptable. Jack Wallis explores our shadow side and the importance of becoming familiar with it. Lorna Marsden suggests that it is the light that helps us see our darkness.
- Kenneth Barnes looks on our imperfections as stepping stones to God. In a similar vein June Ellis talks of our woundedness and how it helps us feel connected to one another.
Some Friends have been brave enough to share their personal experiences.
Personal experience of mental distress
- Bernard Brett shares his experience of struggling with depression with great honesty. In a passage Hilary Pimm talks about contemplating suicide as a teenager.
- Rosalind Baker sums up her experience of breakdown very succinctly.
- Emilia Fogelklou shares how the divine broke through at a very low point in her life.
There are other passages within Qf&p suggesting that the divine is with us in pain and suffering.
Divine alongside us in our pain and suffering
- Joan Fitch and Rosamond Robertson draw inspiration from the life of Jesus in this respect. Jocelyn Burnell finds comfort from the beatitudes.
- Advices and queries 1.02.10 encourages us to encompass our suffering and difficulties as part of our Meeting for Worship.
Divine alongside us in web and waft of life
- Bernard Canter explores how religion is all really about living with God as an indwelling presence in our lives. Harvey Gillman believes in a power that is divine, creative and loving and is intertwined in all aspects of life. While Isaac Pennington believes that love embraces all within a wholeness and oneness.
- However, if we are honest at times we do not experience the divine within us. At these times Edward Milligan suggests we need others to be the channels of God's love and caring. For him 'Caring matters most'.
- Qf&p 12.16 sees caring as an expression of the spiritual life of the meeting. The fact that we all have needs is acknowledged within Qf&p 12.01 and within this the importance of listening. This aspect of caring is explored by Margaret Gibbins and the way it can enable us to connect with the divine. Kathy Tweet highlights the need for a compassionate heart when listening to others. Advices and Queries 1.02.18 endorses a tender sympathetic approach to each other.
- Jocelyn Burnell sees us as agents of God's love in the world and Jack Dobbs encourages us to open up to become the channels of healing grace.
- An essential part of caring is looking after ourselves so that we can care for others. Caroline Graveson draws inspiration from the life of Christ to encourage us to do this.