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Mental illness, ministry, and ‘full recovery’

01 March 2013


From the Revd Christopher Newell
Sir, - You reported (News, 1 February) on the Bishop of Exeter's speech in the House of Lords supporting the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill on 18 January.

Bishop Langrish, in his speech, cited the example of a priest in his diocese who had previously been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, but had now "fully recovered, with a most effective ministry". This was evidence that full recovery from mental ill-health is "certainly" possible.

In the neighbouring diocese of Truro, I have, I hope, exercised an effective ministry for the past 15 years, while continuing to live with a serious and ongoing mental-health problem. I have not "fully recovered", and maybe never will; but that has not prevented me, and the diocese empowering me, from offering a full and flourishing ministry to my Church.

For many people living with long-term and chronic mental-health problems, it is not recovery from, but recovery within, mental illness which requires recognition and affirmation from the wider society, especially including employment opportunities.

I am currently staying in a mental-health unit in London on a Section 3 of the Mental Health Act, which is a treatment order for up to six months. It is not the first time I have been sectioned, and it may not be the last. During this period, however, I have been writing, studying, and even writing a letter to the Church Times. I very much expect to return to active ministry in good time with the support of my colleagues, my employer (Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust), and my diocese and Bishop.

Recovery, for me, is about helping me to manage my mental-health problems while continuing to offer my Church and community the very best I can be. It is not about leaving behind for good my mental illness. That may never happen.

I very much support the spirit of the Bishop's speech and, indeed, the Bill. But there are many people who continue to live with their mental illness while seeking to live in our society and offer our Churches the very best of who they can be. Please do not think we have to recover fully from our mental-health problems before we can begin the process of recovery and, in that process, become fully accepted and flourishing human beings.

Cygnet Hospital
London Road
Harrow on the Hill
Middlesex HA1 3JL

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