11th October, 2011
"Mental illnesses affect people of all ages, in all societies, from the boy soldier in Sierra Leone traumatised by years of bloody civil war, to the mother affected by HIV/AIDS. Therefore it is crucial for the churches to challenge the stigma attached to mental illness,” Rev Kjell Magne Bondevik reminded churches at a service in Switzerland earlier this week
"Mental illnesses affect people of all ages, in all societies, from the boy soldier in Sierra Leone traumatised by years of bloody civil war, to the mother affected by HIV/AIDS. Therefore it is crucial for the churches to challenge the stigma attached to mental illness"
- Rev Kjell Magne Bondevik
Speaking at a morning prayer service on World Mental Health Day held on October 10th, Rev Bondevik, a former Norwegian prime minister and minister of the Lutheran Church of Norway who is now moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, and president of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, underlined the importance of fighting the stigma which often surrounds mental illness.
“Fighting stigma around mental health – and creating more openness – is important first of all for people with mental health problems, but also for the society around," he said. "If people come earlier to the health care personnel with their problems it will be easier and cheaper to help them."
Rev Bondevik, a staunch advocate for promoting acceptance and engagement with mental health issues who was applauded for his courage in admitting that he suffered from depression while prime minister in 1998, called for a consistent response to improve the environment and facilities available to those suffering from mental illness.
“It is our common responsibility and challenge together to improve the situation for the people that suffer from mental diseases also in developing countries, where the economical resources are scarce,” he told those at the service, which was hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.
“To give priority to the care for people with mental illnesses, we must expand the knowledge about mental illnesses; we must strengthen the integration of these people in the society and reduce the risk of exclusion.”
Speaking after Rev Bondevik, Dr Manoj Kurian, WCC programme executive for the health and healing programme, said churches need to "commit to greater engagement with the issue of mental health".
"We need to promote a contextual and affirming interpretation of our holy scriptures. As faith communities we need to combat stigma and affirm the dignity of all those suffering from mental illness.”
To find out more about the WCC's health and healing programme, follow this link...