Mental Health


Just about to leave my office when I check the BBC website and get filled with gloom. Or should the breaking news simply explain my experience of the last few years? Some American professor has done some research and discovered that ‘reasoning, speed of thought and spatial visualisation all decline in our late 20s. Oh great!

Apparently our brains start to decline at around the age of 27 after hitting the peak of mental power at 22. This puts me almost 30 years into decline already. In fact, I’ve now had more years declining than I had improving.

Does this explain why I have now started on Twitter: I only have to worry about 140 characters at a time?

I need to go home and lie down in a darkened room.

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The Bethlem Royal Hospital (from where we get the term ‘bedlam‘) in Croydon is an amazing place and I spent most of today there. I try to go there for a day each year (at least). I go for several reasons: firstly, to support the excellent chaplaincy staff; secondly, to support the excellent other staff and residents; thirdly, to keep abreast of what is happening in the whole area of mental health care provision. (There is also an excellent and intriguing museum which is well worth visiting.)

225px-bethlemroyalhospital1Today involved a service of healing in the forensic wing, a Bible study with staff, volunteers and residents, and meetings with a variety of people. It concluded with a Eucharist in the chapel. And I loved every minute of it, meeting some wonderful (and some very challenging) people in the different contexts.

I don’t want to say too much about the contents of the day, but do want to register the importance of this work. mental health work is sometimes seen as the bits of society most of us would prefer to pretend isn’t there. There is also a danger that bishops such as me think mainly of the Church as being the parishes and those that pay the Parish Share. But chaplaincy work here is both demanding and exhausting, relentless and integral to the ministry of Anglican churches. I don’t want the chaplains, the volunteers or the institution to fall of my radar or that of the wider church.

At a quick meeting with the senior management I stressed the importance of religious identity (not just ‘spirituality’) being integral to any human being, thus observing that any holistic view of a human being must take seriously any religious identity or worldview. Religion is not and cannot be an ‘add-on’ once physical and psychological stuff has been addressed. It was very good to hear this affirmed by the professionals who, I think, do superb work.

kurelekThe Bethlem is not only served by excellent chaplains, but also by volunteers who give of themselves to serve and help people whose lives are often pretty messed up. I have massive respect for them and for those organisations in this area that work hard for people with mental health problems – especially when many people wish they would simply be hidden away.