You may have noticed over the last few weeks that I have started publishing interviews that spotlight the ups and down of various dreamers’ journeys. My hope is that by immersing you in the stories of ordinary people chasing their dreams, you will be inspired to believe in yourself.
What I love most about these interviews is the diversity of the differing dreams and passions. So far we’ve heard from Mark (the experimental test pilot chasing his dream of becoming an astronaut), Miriam (the girl who paid off $24,000 of debt in ten months and is now spending the year traveling all 50 states), and Maxie and Kat (two ladies with a passion to see entrepreneurs unite their philanthropic lives with their businesses).
Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to Joel Gipson. Joel is a mental health counselor living in the Pacific Northwest. His passion is equipping community leaders, especially church leaders, to better meet the needs of community members who have mental health issues.
I am honored to have Joel share his story here, not just because he’s chasing his dream but because depression, suicide and post traumatic stress have all harmed people I love. In 2011, one of my best friends accidentally overdosed and died from self medicating with prescription pills. And it flat out destroyed me. This past September, another friend shot herself, and as far as I know, I was the last person to speak with her.
Educating the world on mental health issues isn’t “glamorous” but according to the conversation I had with Joel, 1 in 4 of us are struggling with it, so I think it’s time we start talking about it.
Joel, what’s a typical day like for you?
Weekdays are spent at a community mental health agency where I mainly do assessments for men and women with chronic mental health conditions, so they can receive services. I have a small caseload of men and women with chronic mental health conditions (i.e. Bipolar disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, and Depression). We work on how to learn to cope, understand, and become stable in the community.
And what’s your big picture, long term dream?
My big picture dream is consulting with church leaders about how to better help their community members with chronic mental illness. I’d really like to go and sit down with churches on a one-on-one basis, meet with their leadership team, and help them learn the best techniques to make sure they have the resources to prevent suicide, and know how to empathize and respond better to the difficulty their church members are dealing with and not push, control or “save” them.
I want people to be encouraged to feel safe and know the church is a safe place for them. They need to know God still loves them. They need to know their illness does not negate their relationship with Christ.
That’s an awesome dream. What are you currently doing to accomplish this?
I share a lot of resources on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube: inspirational quotes, video blogs, educational articles — anything that can help to get the cause out and help people become more aware of the struggles in their communities. In a few weeks, I’m holding an educational seminar for pastors and community leaders to help them identify the symptoms of true mental illness and be able to recognize those in their churches and help them understand that people don’t feel safe sharing because they’re uncomfortable, scared and afraid of the stigma.
How did you discover this as your passion?
When I got into school for counseling, I decided I didn’t want to just focus on the psychological side but also on the spiritual side. And then about three years ago, my friend was struggling and took a turn for the worse. He became psychotic and the help he was trying to get from the church just wasn’t enough. He ended up passing away due to complications from his mental illness and I really felt like, “God, this has to change. It can’t just be, ‘Oh, you’re depressed.’ or ‘Oh, you’re not feeling well? We’ll pray for you… Have a good day.’”
Right now I work in an agency that helps low income community members identify what resources are available to them. They don’t have a lot of options but a lot of them started to say they went to church or know people who do and so I thought, “What can the church do better to help these people and create a better support system to help them stay stable? And how can I, as a christian, help the church be the type of support they need instead of just a pat on the back?”
Finally, I just decided there’s enough people in private practice. I am going to do something a little different. I’m going to go out and equip pastors and leaders to help their communities.
What has been the most surprising part of your journey?
I think the most surprising part, so far, is getting to talk to people and having them feel comfortable opening up and telling me that they are dealing with mental illness as well. It has helped them realize it’s not just them and even “normalizes” what they’re going through. It helps them feel heard and loved because someone is willing to step up and talk about it. They are encouraged to see someone wants to help churches be able to support them better.
What practical steps can others take to educate themselves or help the people in their lives?
A great book I recently read is Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson. It is a wonderful book from the perspective of someone whose family was impacted by mental health.
Also just knowing the resources that are available in your community. Every county has a resource that you can call “211” and learn about housing opportunities, food banks, etc.
Finally, always listen. Sometimes people just need to listen and not worry about giving out resources, offering the right techniques or sharing bible verses. They just need to listen. That’s all they need. The Holy Spirit will guide them to see what each person needs beyond that.
What do you think? Do you know someone who struggles with mental illness? Have other questions about how to help them? Questions about your own struggle? Feel free to share your stories, questions and thoughts in the comments below. I will be sure to have Joel help with responses.