In 1993 the Vancouver Sun published Sick, But No One Brought Me Flowers. This article marked the coming out of a woman who—starting at the beginning of the next century—was to introduce mental health awareness to the Christian Church. She was determined to reduce the stigma affecting people with mental health problems—people like herself.

Her book, Riding the Roller Coaster was published in 1999. At the time, it was an unusual book because it was written by a person with bipolar disorder for people who, like herself, lived with mood disorders. Her words to readers who feared the diagnosis they’d been given were: “It’s not the end of the world.”

The book was filled with personal anecdotes of life with mental health problems—truthful, yet comforting. She included coping skills that she had herself found helpful. She wrote about the importance of patience, forgiveness, gratitude, hope, love, and the importance of thinking of others.

Soon she became known as someone who could speak and write freely and animatedly, with no sense of shame at all. Her focus became the Church as the body best equipped to reduce the stigma people like herself were experiencing. Where else did such love exist, but in the hearts of those who know Jesus?

She spoke with the voice of someone who knew what it was to live with mental health struggles. She knew God and had complete faith that it was through his love that the Christian Church would be able to give people like herself the acceptance they needed.

But it took a while before the Church would shed its false ideas on the topic. Many thought that mental illness was an indication of not being right with God. Some even felt that demons played a role in these illnesses. Her rollercoaster blog—popular at the time—revealed comments from Christians with illness who were being hurt and made to feel ashamed.

They needed support—a place where they could safely talk about both—their mental health and God. This led to the founding of the faith-based Living Room groups in 2006. These groups were a great blessing. It was a relief to study God’s Word and to find encouragement there, together with other Christians who knew what it was to live with mental health issues.

Her book A Firm Place to Stand was published in 2008, an effort to show that good Christians are not exempt from having a mental illness.

In those early days, when so little was known in the Church about mental illness, she became a sought after speaker and writer, educating her audiences about mental illness and how the Church could respond. She spoke at conferences and church groups, wrote articles for print and online media. 100 Huntley Street spent a day with her, resulting in a 20 minute spot on the show. Many emails came in, leading to the formation of other Living Room groups in Canada and the U.S. The number of groups eventually climbed to sixteen.

Because she spoke from her own experience and as a person whose sincerity they could see and believe, her audiences accepted her as a representative of others who lived with mental health issues. They realized there was nothing to fear.

But, although a successful leader, she was still dealing with mental illness. Symptoms arose, especially during stressful times, of which there were many. After they passed, she carried on, showing herself capable and someone who demanded respect.

Eventually, though, the constant stress of planting and supporting more Living Room groups became more than one person could carry. In 2014, she was relieved when Sanctuary Mental Health Ministry, founded in 2011, offered to merge with her ministry.

Little did she know that Living Room would be abandoned four years later, with only vague ideas given on where to go next. Although a small number of groups carried on, Living Room as a ministry caring for those with lived experience was no more.

The unique voices of those who knew what it meant to live with mental illness were replaced by those who didn’t—those who only learned about mental health and talked about mental health issues.

Things have changed for people with mental health challenges. They are further away than they were in the early times of Church awareness. No longer listened to as they once were. Further from being understood by those who are considered well. Further from being accepted as equal brothers and sisters.


Marja Bergen has an email ministry which sends devotional reflections of comfort and encouragement, geared for those living with mental health issues. (and don’t we all at times?) They are sent out twice a week. To subscribe, email her at