7th December 2017

Does the existence of your congregation make any difference to the people who live around your church? This thought provoking question featured strongly in the background during a recent afternoon discussion when Betty O’Rourke, Irish Mission Health Ministries sponsor visited the Banbridge church. The topic, “Forgiveness and Mental Health”, opened the dialogue on the unique challenges that affect the mental health of Northern Ireland’s population.

“This friendly and welcoming church is rooted in a community that bears the pain of past conflict – what is now remembered as The Troubles”, says Betty O’Rourke. “Northern Ireland has come through years of turmoil, and today is recognised as a peace keeping community, built on mutual trust. But the people of Northern Ireland are still battling inner pain and grief, and there are no winners in this struggle to come to terms with the past.”

Mental health is often overlooked in the allocation of health funding. Little or no priority is given to this much neglected area of health which at one time or another may affect us all, but in a different way.

Several unique features of Northern Ireland’s mental health environment were discussed during this afternoon presentation. A 2011 report linked the legacy of The Troubles with the fact that Northern Ireland has the highest rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the world. Since then, mental health observers have also repeatedly emphasized links between the experience of traumatic events and the scourge of suicides that affect the so-called “ceasefire babies” of Northern Ireland.

“It may take three or four generations to overcome the emotional pain,” said one of the church members who works in the mental health sector.

Banbridge Church EntranceWhat difference does the church make in this environment? “What was evident was that the Banbridge church was a place of empathy and love, willing to embrace all who experience pain in this area, realising that this is a slow journey to recovery,” says Betty O’Rourke.

“When I visited on the 25th of November, I felt impressed that the Banbridge church was a community that practised a forgiving spirit. They were passionate about reaching out to those who need compassion, to offer a listening ear. They were actively reflecting on what it meant to exercise non-judgemental love.”

Betty explained: “It is the goal of our churches and the Health Ministries department to promote good mental health. It does not matter how healthy we are physically…. If we do not have good mental health, we have no quality of health. Christ set a good example for us to follow. He spent time listening and supporting the broken hearted. If we practice this, our church communities can make a significant difference to the people and communities that live around our church.”

[Elizabeth O'Rourke and Irish Mission News]


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