Breaking the Mental Health Stigma in Faith Communities

Pastor Juanita Rasmus shares her personal experience in dealing with depression.

Posted Oct 01, 2020

Juanita Rasmus, used with permission
Source: Juanita Rasmus, used with permission

The topic of mental health has rapidly progressed towards recognition and education in societies that used to be starkly resistant to these conversations. However, this is not the case in all communities, and Pastor Juanita Rasmus’ book Learning to Be addresses this issue from a personal perspective.

Juanita Campbell Rasmus is a speaker, writer, spiritual director, and contemplative. She co-pastors the St. John's United Methodist Church in downtown Houston with her husband, Rudy. She's a trained spiritual director and a member of the Renovaré ministry team.

Jamie Aten: Why did you set out to write your book?

Juanita Rasmus: Mental Health is still too often a taboo conversation in families, social circles, and even in faith communities. Those who suffer from mental health symptoms are often left to suffer alone and in silence. I have written Learning to Be as a means of tearing down the walls of alienation, stigma, and shame, as well as a way of breaking our silence and shining light on the ways that addressing our mental health can invite us into a more authentic experience of life and personal transformation.

JA: What is the primary takeaway you hope readers will learn from reading your book?

JR: I wrote Learning to Be with the hopes that readers would leave the book and walk into a life recognizing that each of us has an untold measure of resiliency. We can live expansive generative lives following a mental health diagnosis, divorce, death, grief, disruption, discontentment, and despair, but we will need to live differently. Any of these experiences can become the means for self-reflection, evaluation, and ultimately, real transformative personal growth.

A diagnosis was my invitation to take a new look at the way that I had been living my life. My recovery journey gave me space to create a meaningful life that has proven to be most reflective of my authentic self. Challenging times can become the invitation to do the deep work of discarding belief systems that no longer serve us. In Learning to Be, I mention taking off the training wheels as an analogy for removing what is no longer life-giving. This kind of mind-body-spirit attentiveness can provide a pathway for healing our deepest hurts and making way for the liberation of the real self. I wrote Learning to Be so others might experience the freedom I’ve come to know in writing a new narrative for my life and for the ways I have come to experience my most expansive self, the self that is ever learning to be.

JA: What are some lessons from your book that can help people live more resiliently?

JR: The practice of the examen is a tool for resiliency. St. Ignatius of Loyola taught the practice to his busy monks, all other spiritual practices might be neglected but the examen was not to be abandoned. In the minutes before retiring to bed, take deep breaths and exhale slowly to ground yourself in the present moment. Review your day, notice any moments that were gifts to you. Perhaps a compliment from a colleague, or a greeting that might have been ignored. Move through the day’s activities and encounters in your mind like a miner panning for gold. Note the niceties, the moments of connection, love, and awareness. Then give thanks for those moments. Likewise, any moments of frustration, disappointment, haste, or embarrassment, anything that bugged you, left you frazzled or drained. Give thanks for noticing those moments as well. Make a note as to how you might create a better encounter the next time or note the root cause of the draining experience. Decide you will make changes to correct any wrong on your part. The overall objective is simply to notice what gives you life and what does not, and to do more of what gives you life!

JA: What are some insights from your book that help readers support a friend or loved one?

JR: Learning to Be offers readers an awareness of the debilitating experience of depression. Friendship can provide a means of support for the person who is already experiencing isolation from community and sometimes the ritual and routine of what had been their regular life. COVID-19 has given most Americans a taste of how change of any kind can create emotional distress on one level or another. Now we have all had the experience of noticing shifts in our “normal” way of being. Courtesy, compassion, and caring can make all the difference in the life of the one experiencing mental illness. For family and friends, Ryan and Rudy’s insights can be helpful. The major gift is to ask the one who is suffering how you might support them. It may take them a while to determine an answer but compassion to their suffering is key. How about taking them for a ride in the car for fresh air, as Ava did for me?

JA: What are you currently working on these days?

JR: In Learning to Be, I share the experience of being a one on the Enneagram. My next book, Forty Days on Being a One, provides an opportunity for ones to laugh, sigh, and take a closer look at how we tick. Those who are in a relationship with ones will gain insight and hopefully empathy, we carry a heavy burden. But the good news is we can learn to live in more authentic ways that allow us to know real joy, all too often elusive to us ones. The book will include simple practices so as to invite and ease into reflection on what gives us life and what makes life for us more constricting. It’s an honest, transparent and sometimes funny read, I think it will be unlike anything in the market on the Enneagram.