Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
And why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God.
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
Fifty-one years ago this month, on May 24, 1971, my uncle committed suicide. An Episcopal priest, husband, and father of three young boys, his death shocked his church, his community and, of course, his family. At the time, my twin brother and I were 14 years old.
Our mother broke the news of our uncle’s death to us, sharing that he had taken his own life. I remember her saying something like, “no one can explain these things.” There is a lot of truth in that. In many ways the human mind and psyche are still a great mystery. On the other hand, today a lot is known about mental health and there are a great many resources to assist and support people who struggle with mental health issues as well as those who care for persons with mental health issues.
At a meeting of The Cathedral Chapter held this past week on Zoom, Kimme Carlos, a member of Trinity Cathedral and the Chapter, and herself a strong advocate for mental health awareness and care, reminded those attending the meeting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The commemoration was first established in May of 1949 by Mental Health America (formerly the National Association for Mental Health). Mental Health Awareness Month is intended to raise public consciousness about mental health as a service to the 21 percent of U.S. adults (1 in 5) who suffer from mental illness each year. More than 5 percent (14.2 million) of these persons suffer from serious mental illness. The observance is also intended to draw attention to suicide and suicide prevention. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people between ages 10–34 and the tenth leading cause of death in the United States overall.
Mental Health America’s theme for 2022 is “Back to Basics.” As they explain on their website, “After the last two years of pandemic living, many people are realizing that stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on their well-being. Our goal is to provide foundational knowledge about mental health & mental health conditions and information about what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern.” Both the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) the Mental Health America websites provide rich resources with all kinds of significant information including useful toolkits. Click on either one to go their sites. Mental Health America is a strong advocate for early intervention, which is made clear in what they call their B4Stage4 Philosophy. About this they write:
“…Mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process. When we think about diseases like cancer or heart disease, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4—we begin with prevention, identify symptoms, and develop a plan of action to stop and hopefully reverse the progression of the disease. Like other diseases, it is critical to address symptoms early and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health.”
COVID19 has exacerbated mental health challenges for people of all ages, but especially children and youth, and especially people in communities of color that were hardest hit. For a helpful list of signs of possible mental health issues for adults as well as children and youth, go here.
The Diocese of New Jersey is blessed with several people who have expertise in mental health issues and care and who have served the diocese with particularly good and important work throughout the COVID19 crisis. I want to take this opportunity to name and thank them. I’ve already mentioned Kimme Carlos, who has organized numerous workshops and symposiums on mental health at Trinity Cathedral and in the Trenton area.
The Reverend Greg Wilson, Priest-in-Charge of Trinity Church, Swedesboro and also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Dr. Rosalie DeSimone-Weiss, an active member of St. Luke’s, Metuchen and a practicing psychologist were instrumental in establishing the Episcopal Mental and Spiritual Health Crisis Ministry of New Jersey a joint effort to serve the people of both the Diocese of New Jersey and the Diocese of Newark, and especially clergy and wardens, to practice good self-care throughout the COVID19 pandemic. This included the creation and maintenance of a “warm-line” by which clergy and wardens could get in quick contact with a mental health professional to address any issues with which they were struggling. Others who were part of this effort included: The Rev. Dr. Kathleen Bishop, Ms. Kimmee Carlos, The Rev. Dr. Caroline Carson, The Rev. Susanna Cates, The Rev. Alan Leonard, Mr. Jon Carl Lewis, The Rev. Canon Jayne Oasin, The Rev. Ann Urinoski, The Rev. Alexandra Van Kuiken, The Rev. Dr. Hugh Brown, The Rev. Dr. Sonia Waters and The Rev. Dr. Bill Noble. Among those from the Diocese of Newark who were key in the establishment of this ministry were The Rev. Dr. Debra Brewin-Wilson, Dr. Godfrey Gregg and Dr. Cheryl Notari. The Reverend Drs. Kathleen Bishop and James Jones, both licensed therapists, also offered mindfulness workshops to clergy over the past year.
Sadly, in our society, despite all we have learned, mental illness is still too often not treated with the same sensitivity and regard as physical illness. It is also often stigmatized. The solution to this is education, awareness and honesty—honesty with one another and honesty with ourselves. It is highly likely that all of us will go through times in our lives when we will experience a mental health challenge, probably multiple times. As with other illnesses, with proper recognition, care and treatment, most of us will navigate our way through these moments and emerge in health on the other side. As with physical health, some people experience more serious occurrences, events, and illnesses that require longer term, perhaps lifelong, care. In all instances, it is vitally important that we pay attention to ourselves and those around us and ask for help when it appears called for it. Help is always available. Simply look at the resources I’ve named above.
Those in extreme situations, that is considering self-harm or suicide should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
During the remaining days of this Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s all work at increasing both our knowledge and sensitivity to the challenges of mental illness as well as our awareness of the help that is available.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 See “Mental Health Awareness Month” – Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_Health_Awareness_Month
 See “Mental Health