Mental Health Ministries

MHM e-Spotlight Holiday 2019

Mental Illness Awareness

The holidays can be a time of great joy as we connect with family and friends and enjoy family traditions. They can also be a difficult season for many people. But no matter what our circumstances, we can choose to focus on those things that we are thankful for. Gratitude can be a mindfulness practice that can be helpful throughout this season and throughout the year.

If the only prayer you said in your life was “Thank you,” that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart

“Thank you̕” is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.
Alice Walker

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.
Psalms 7:17

My Thanksgiving Week "To Do" List

My Thanksgiving Week "To Do" List graphic

Resources for Coping with the Holidays

Brochure – Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays

Coping with the Holidays BrochureThe holidays are meant to be a time of meaning. For Christians, it is a time to consider what the birth of Jesus means to you. The Jewish holiday of Hanukah celebrates light and hope in the midst of darkness. The holiday of Kwanzaa offers a time to reflect upon the meaning of ones' African heritage and culture. For those who identify with no specific religious tradition, we can all be mindful and discover what it means for us to spend time with family and friends and how relationships provide purpose and meaning in our lives.

But the holidays can be a stressful time even under the best of conditions.  The brochure, Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays, provides helpful self-care tips for persons living with a mental illness, tips for families, friends and tips for communities of faith.  You can download this resource from the Mental Health Ministries website in English or Spanish

Article – When the Holidays are Difficult: Persevering Through Tough Times

When the Holidays are Difficult graphicBrad Hoefs talks about a difficult Christmas and what he has learned. "Over 20 years ago my wife and I went through one of the most difficult Christmases we have ever had. That fall I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was asked to resign as the senior pastor of a ministry that was my “idol” and in which I placed the whole of my identity."

Hoefs offers ways that his family learned and offers some helpful suggestions. He writes, “I’ve come to understand that a meaningful and “merry” Christmas is not about the activities, gifts, nor events.  What matters is what is going on inside of me.  It’s not about what happens outside, but what is going on inside of me.”
What have you found to be helpful when you are facing a difficult Christmas?

Article – Faith & Family on Beating the Holiday Blues

The “Holiday Blues” can be caused by a number of circumstances, such as personal grief, loneliness, illnesses of all kinds, economic concerns, current events, separation from family members and relationship issues like estrangement or divorce.  This article offers some tips for dealing with the sadness many people feel this time of year.  The author, Rev. Debra Ost, says, “In this season of Advent, we long for gentleness and compassion. We find it in our loving God, the one who comes to us in the Child of Bethlehem. This gentle and compassionate God walks alongside us during our holiday blues, accompanies us through the dark days and into the light. And if we should find that our “blues” persist and the darkness doesn’t lift, God will remain with us, for God promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Blue Christmas and Blue Holiday Worship Services

Christmas can be a painful time for some. It may be the first Christmas without a loved family member who has recently died; it may be a time that has always been difficult. The constant refrains on radio and television, in shopping malls and churches, about the happiness of the season, about getting together with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost. The anguish of the death of a loved one can make us feel alone in the midst of the celebrating and joy. We need the space and time to acknowledge our sadness; we need to know that we are not alone. We need encouragement to live the days ahead of us.

Faith communities are increasingly attentive to the needs of people who are “blue” during this holiday season. They are creating sacred space and hospitable settings to include those who face various kinds of losses, grief or depression. Such services are reflective, accepting the reality of where we are emotionally. They offer a message of hope and the assurance of God’s presence with us in the midst of our darkness.

There are several sites on the internet that provide worship resources suitable for use at a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” worship services. One example is the Blue Christmas Worship Resource Index. There are samples of Blue Christmas and a Blue Interfaith Holiday Service in the Worship section under Resources on the Mental Health Ministries website.

Article – How to Navigate Multicultural Holidays

Multicultural Holiday SymbolsAlmost everyone knows about the typical holidays celebrated during the winter months but, there are many other holidays not traditionally celebrated that sometimes get forgotten. In being mindful, it is helpful to take an inventory of our personal willingness to be more aware of what others around us experience. This post provides questions and answers that you can apply this holiday season to learn more about both well- and lesser-known traditions and open your mind beyond what you celebrate.

NAMI Article – Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues

Many people can experience feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. People who already live with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time. Extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season can be a catalyst for the holiday blues. Some can be at risk for feelings of loneliness, sadness, fatigue, tension and a sense of loss.  A lot of seasonal factors can trigger the holiday blues such as, less sunlight, changes in your diet or routine, alcohol at parties, over-commercialization or the inability to be with friends or family. These are all factors that can seriously affect your mood. However, there are certain things you can do to help avoid the holiday blues. Ken Duckworth, M.D., NAMI’s medical director, shares advice for managing your health—both mental and physical—during the holiday season in this video. 

Article – Coping With the Holidays

Silver bell ornamentTips for persons living with a mental illness:

  • Remember the importance of self-care.
  • Maintain regular routines for sleeping, eating, and exercise.
  • Keep appointments with mental health professionals and support groups.
  • When overwhelmed by large group gatherings, excuse yourself for some quiet time alone.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to help others to keep your own problems in perspective.
  • Find joy in the present; let go of past regrets.

How faith communities can help:

  • Make a special effort to invite all to Church, especially people who are struggling.
  • Share familiar Scripture stories and hymns to bring comfort to those who feel disconnected from their faith community.
  • Be aware of silent sufferers who may be afraid to share their pain.
  • Contact shelters and community mental health centers in your area for wish list donation opportunities.
  • Visit parishioners who can’t leave their home, residential placement or hospital with a token gift from your parish to help them know they are not forgotten.

View the article here.

Article – Holiday Self Care

Mary Kay Irving writes, “Many people, not just those who have or live with someone who has a mental illness, feel added pressure this time of year. Even before Halloween, the Christmas decorations are out in stores. TV specials perpetuate the notion that holidays are a time of excessive happiness spent in perfect harmony with your loved ones. Parties abound with an unending stream of calories and alcohol and gift giving is promoted despite ones means. The lure is to spend more, drink more and attend every gathering possible to reach some illusion of this idealized state of happiness. More often after the parties and holiday are over, many feel regret, guilt and possibly remorse at the added inches and credit card debt, feeling no closer to family or friends or the promised land of happiness.”

Irving offers suggestions on what we can do to help ourselves, our loved ones and our congregations during the holidays.

MHM Video – Eating Disorders: Wasting Away

We all enjoy the special foods during the holidays. Grandma’s recipes come out this time of year as friends and family gather. While we enjoy all these holiday foods, it can be tempting to overeat. One tip we hear about self-care is to be reasonable about food and alcohol consumption. The holidays can be especially challenging for persons living with an eating disorder. In this video, two families share their struggles in dealing with eating disorders.

View the video here.

Article – The Hope of Waiting

Rev. Deborah Oskin writes, “Mental illness is an invisible disability. It’s one that others don’t notice at first sight. Being a caregiver for someone with a debilitating mental illness is often an isolating experience. Unless you've been through it, you just can't know. It's hard to keep the hope of Advent in your heart when waiting for a miracle turns into waiting for the next crisis to occur. This is especially true during the holidays. Other people are decorating their homes; you're making sure there's nothing in the house that could be used for harm. Other people are gathering at parties; you're on suicide-watch. I remember being alone with her all the time. I remember avoiding public settings, because I didn't know what she'd say. Our loving congregation made the biggest difference during this time in our lives. I remember our congregation opening its arms to her and loving her, despite her hallucinations, her confusion over her identity, her odd statements and interruptions during worship. They loved us. They loved her. They still love her. And that made all the difference.”

Read the article here.

Other Resources

Bulletin Insert – What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Some of us who live with a mental health issue are more sensitive to small time changes like daylight savings time. Adjusting to time change when traveling can be more difficult especially when crossing many time zones.

With SAD, as with all chronic mental illnesses and normal holiday stress, our faith communities can be intentional about finding ways to encourage a healthy winter holiday season that focuses on our faith, our families and our friends. A bulletin insert/flyer, What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? is available on the Mental Health Ministries Home page.

Article – Religion and Mental Health: What is the Link?

During the holiday season, many people will be focusing their thoughts on spiritual matters. Interestingly, a growing corpus of research has examined the link between religious belief, religious practice, and mental health. These studies reveal a set of consistent findings. There are direct links to these studies in this article.

What do the studies say?
Research indicates that higher levels of religious belief and practice (known in social science as "religiosity") is associated with better mental health. In particular, the research suggests that higher levels of religiosity are associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and suicidal behavior. Religiosity is also associated with better physical health and subjective well-being. Likewise, research indicates that religiosity can enhance recovery from mental illness, aiding in the healing process.

Read the article here.

Article – Harvest Ministries Pastor's Suicide Prompts National Conversation About Clergy and Mental Illness

After the death of two pastors by suicide, Deepa Bharath wrote this article about clergy and suicide. Article: ”Harvest Ministries pastor’s suicide prompts national conversation about clergy and mental illness”

Article – A Church Invests in Mental Health in Response to Parishioner's Suffering

Church image.It is often parishioners sharing their mental health challenges that is a catalyst for a congregation to begin or expand a mental health ministry. A 6,400-member congregation in North Carolina has created a “wellness director” position after experiencing six suicides in five years. The Rev. Chip Edens said that a church forum “opened us up more deeply.” Are there actions your congregation could take to help people open up and connect more deeply?

Read the article here.

Article – Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Choosing Hope in the Face of Hopelessness.Rev. Brad Hoefs shares his story of finding hope in his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He writes “Usually people see the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as the difficult thing to accept. Well, for me, the people around me helped me to see that the diagnosis and treatment of my bipolar disorder were a way back to having a future. It was the idea that the bipolar could be treated and I could have a future that poked a small pinhole of hope into the darkness of hopelessness.” Hoefs invites us to “Choose Hope” in this article.

Brad Hoefs is the founder of Fresh Hope, a national network of faith-based peer support groups for those who have mental health challenges and also for their loved ones. He is a certified Intentional Peer Specialist, and also serves on the State of Nebraska Advisory Committee on Mental Health. Brad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 1995. One of Brad’s passions is to empower peers to live a full and rich life in spite of a mental health challenge. Brad’s blog is “Living Well!”

Article – Reaching Out with Hospitality to People with Mental Illness

Thomas P. Welch, MD, a psychiatrist at the Northwest Catholic Counseling Center, is a member of the Council on Mental Illness of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. He writes, “Because mental illnesses are so common, every parish will have members with a variety of conditions; some might be readily apparent, while others could be less visible. Regardless of the nature of their mental illness, people should feel welcomed and valued in their parish. Ways to promote an environment of welcome can be as simple as including intentions for people who have mental illness in the Prayer of the Faithful and hosting support groups such as those offered by the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Attention to language in homilies or parish communications is necessary to avoid the use of derogatory or outdated terms for people with mental illness or other disabilities that can inadvertently alienate.” The article is divided into four helpful sections with ideas for congregations in each session.


Read the article here.

Article – Waiting

Angel with clock.Waiting by Karl Shallowhorn “We’re now in the season of Advent, the time of the year when Christians across the world are awaiting the coming of the Christ child. Much of this expectancy is built around preparing the way for Jesus. We also hope. Hope for a better world. For the many individuals, like myself, living with mental health and/or addiction disorders, the concept of waiting can take on a completely different meaning. For us, we may be waiting for the day when we can simply be relieved of the pain associated with our condition. Unfortunately, this can take time. Recovery doesn’t typically occur overnight. It is a process that requires many elements, including support, whether it be professional or social in nature, or medication and other self-help strategies. Regardless of what is needed, some people struggle with developing the tools to create a state of well-being.”

Read the article here.

Book – A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life book by RoozeboomMental illness is real, and our children are not exempt. Yet mental illness—especially when it affects children—remains a hidden affliction. It is unmentioned at family reunions, misunderstood by society and not talked about in social circles. It’s time to break the silence. Author Bev Roozeboom invites you to take a peek into the homes and lives of families who have a child living with a chronic mental health disorder.
Willing to wade into difficult waters, Roozeboom touches on tough subjects other parents raised with her including financial challenges, marital tensions, isolation, sibling struggles, injuries sustained by violent behaviors, and judgment by fellow church members. Her subtitle summarizes accurately the hope and lament that reverberate throughout: “A glimpse into the chaos—and hope—of families with children living in the grip of chronic mental health disorders.”

Available on Amazon.

Book – Waiting for Fitz

Waiting for Fitz book.“Waiting for Fitz” by Spencer Hyde is a young adult novel about a teenage girl with OCD and her friend who has schizophrenia.  The author is a professor at Brigham Young University, and he has OCD. The novel follows a teenage girl named Addie Foster, an inpatient suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder — a disorder often referred to as OCD, which Hyde has suffered from himself. Addie befriends a boy named Fitz who is suffering from schizophrenia, Hyde said. He said he had to write from a female perspective to help distance himself from the story. The story begins similar to his own journey in which he was admitted as an inpatient at Johns Hopkins Hospital and started meeting with several different doctors. From there the book takes off with Addie’s own story. Waiting for Fitz is a story about life and love, forgiveness and courage, and learning what is truly worth waiting for.

Available on Amazon.

Year-End Giving – Support Mental Health Ministries
How you can help?

In this season of giving, please consider a tax-deductible gift to Mental Health Ministries.  Any size gift to support this ministry is appreciated.  You will receive a letter acknowledging your contribution for your tax records.

Your tax-deductible donations to the support the mission of Mental Health Ministries can be sent to the address below or you can donate online.

Mental Health Ministries
c/o Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, Coordinator
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119

Mental Health Ministries wants to thank each of you who work to erase the stigma of mental illness and help faith communities be caring congregations to persons living with a mental illness and those who care for them. We hope our resources are helpful in creating caring congregations.

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If you wish to be added to receive our e-Spotlight newsletter, email Susan with your full name and email at  We send out six e-Spotlights a year full of timely resources.  All our Spotlights are archived on the website and most of the resources included can be found under the Resources section of the Mental Health Ministries website.  The topics are now alphabetized to help you easily access the helpful resources.

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Snippets from Susan

I love the holiday season! I know the holidays are stressful and difficult for many people…especially persons living with a mental illness, those grieving a loss in their lives, persons who are experiencing loneliness, illness, relationship issues, financial challenges and the unrelenting commercialism. Many of the articles in this Spotlight offer helpful suggestions on how to cope with the holidays. And, as a person living with a mental illness, I realize the importance of self-care and I try to be intentional about setting realistic expectations.

But I still love the holidays…and these are a few of my “favorite things.” One of my favorite things is putting the dog in the car and driving around with my husband to see all the colorful holiday lights and decorations. Even better is taking the grandchildren to see our favorite light displays when they come to San Diego for Christmas. It reminds me of light in the midst of darkness and that joy is a gift.

I love putting up decorations that we have had for years and especially ornaments for the Christmas tree. Each ornament that is unwrapped has a story or a memory.

I love the day-long task of making Christmas cutout cookies with our kids and grandkids. The cookies have become far more creative over the years. Decorating these works of art has become serious business as each person displays their creations. Never mind that I find sprinkles around the house well into the spring.

I love going to church to sing the familiar hymns and hearing the Christmas story. The Advent candles we light of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace reflect my prayers for each of us during this holiday season and throughout the year.

Whatever your situation may be this holiday season and whatever your faith tradition, may we all see this season as a time of personal reflection knowing that light can always break into our darkness in surprising and unexpected ways.

Person with arms outstretched on a hill from a distance



Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119