Marja Bergen

author, mental health activist, follower of Christ

Appeal for Christian peer support

 

In 2006 I founded the Living Room group support ministry. As time went on, and especially after being featured on the TV show 100 Huntley Street, enthusiasm grew. The number of groups increased steadily. After four and a half years the ministry had grown to thirteen groups and there were reports that more were starting up.

Peer support groups are an important element in the needs of those living with mental health issues. Support by peers has been shown to be more effective than support from healthy individuals.

According to Phyllis Solomon, PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, peer support “is viewed as a more active approach to coping with illness, promoting choice and self-determination that enhance empowerment, as opposed to the passivity engendered by “participation in services with a hierarchical structure.”

Dr. Solomon has done much research on this topic. Attached is her description of  self-help groups’ effectiveness. I hope you will have a look, because I think it will help you understand why I feel so strongly about the value of groups like Living Room.

Those who struggle with their mental health have a great need for God. I know this from personal experience and from facilitating Living Room for nine years. Being part of a faith-based group like Living Room helps participants in several ways.  They receive social support, support coping with their mental health, and enrichment of their faith life. I’ve also seen how the weekly devotionals I send out to individuals with mental health problems have helped them lean on their faith. Responses have shown much gratitude.

Christian peer support groups are vitally important. Where else can a group of individuals with mental illness gather to talk about their emotional struggles and their trust in God? Where else can they share with others who understand their pain? Those who don’t have lived experience can’t hope to empathize in the way peers can empathize.

Christians with mental health problems must have the option of groups like Living Room available to them. The work God led me to start in 2006, the work that had shown such promise, is not where it once was.  Presently there are only seven groups running. More are needed. And more facilitators will need training,

Churches and the people with lived experience who attend need to grow in awareness about Christian peer support and its value. Those who might consider leading a group like Living Room will have to be able to count on their church for encouragement and support.

The church has made great strides in the acceptance and support of those living with mental illness. But the very people they’re trying to help are missing out on the best support of all – the support they can give each other.

1 Comment

  1. I most definitely agree with the need for Christian support groups for people with mental illnesses or mood disorders.
    Where are those Living Room groups running?
    I enjoyed reading the “A voice of one calling”. I am looking forward to reading the devotions and the blogs written by you.
    Thank you for your e-mail and thank you for obeying God’s calling and writing about mental illness. You are very courageous!

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