There are people in our lives and communities that we assume always have it together, all of the time. From the impeccable PTA volunteers at our children’s schools, to the whip-smart presidents of the companies where we work, to the wise leaders in our local faith communities – their lives often look so enviable and flawless on the outside. It’s hard to imagine that they struggle with some of the same issues our families do, especially when it comes to mental health. Over the summer, Pathways to Hope, a community collaborative conference, was held in San Antonio for mental health organizations, for those that are seeking help, and for faith leaders looking to bridge the gap between the two. Since one of conference’s aims was to help break the stigma associated with mental health issues, organizers invited Robert Emmitt, Pastor Emeritus of Community Bible Church and one of San Antonio’s most beloved faith leaders, to speak about his journey with clinical depression. He spoke about how at first, “I was ashamed to tell anyone about it. The last thing a preacher wants to get is clinical depression,” he says. “We’re not supposed to get there. We want to pray it out, sing it out, study it out, fast it out, worship it out, preach it out. Because if it happens to us, how on earth are we going to help anyone else that it’s happening to?” With the help of his loving spouse, an attentive doctor, prescription medicine, and his faith, he is now standing on the other side of the darkness and happily shares his journey. Pastor Emmitt continued, reassuring those in attendance, “Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. And 14 years later, here I am standing in front of you with the brightest, happiest yellow shirt I can find in my closet to tell you there’s hope and there is light through it. There is life after whatever mental illness you’ve been diagnosed with.”
Pastor Emmitt’s story brings mental health and the faith community together in a very tangible and meaningful way. However, those two concepts – mental health and religion – haven’t always been harmonious. While pastors, priests, and rabbis are often the first ones contacted for help, historically the faith community has struggled to find a response. Fortunately, that is beginning to change. New research suggests that spirituality can benefit patients as part of a treatment approach, when it is appropriate. We will explore that research and what it means to those living with mental illness in the next blog installation. In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more of Pastor Emmitt’s journey, you can hear it in its entirety at the Pathways to Hope site, Session 1.