As readers of this blog will know, I’m currently on research sabbatical in New Mexico, so I was unable to attend the first talk (“What is Depression and what treatments are available?”), which was held last week. This Tuesday’s topic is “Anxiety and Stress Management.” The talks are given by Dr Steve Critchlow, a practising psychiatrist in Belfast. The promotional literature describes the series this way:
Each evening will start with a presentation of the topic followed some weeks by a short talk by a member of a local community project. Following questions and a tea break there will be an optional brief reflection on the SPIRITUAL ISSUES associated with these mental health issues.
Other talks in the series are:
- Tuesday 19th Feb., Addictions. What help is available?
- Tuesday 26th Feb., Some Mental Health problems of young people.
Dr Critchlow explained the following in an email to me:
I am a consultant psychiatrist and have been involved in many types of Christian mission throughout my life. I took early retirement from psychiatric practice and then spent three years in Birmingham as director of OM Lifehope. Following this I spent the last fifteen months in Italy where I was involved in leading 24/7 prayer, helping to start Alpha courses, outreach among Chinese factory workers and involvement in the Global Day of Prayer.
Since returning to Belfast my heart and vision is to use my experience as a psychiatrist to engage members of the public in awareness of mental health issues from both psychiatric and spiritual perspectives. Approximately 7% of the population will suffer from clinical depression in their lifetime. Depression is widely misunderstood.
I give an overview of depressive illness (or Anxiety and Stress Management or Addictions or Mental Health Issues in Young people) followed by a coffee break where people are invited to an optional 20 minute spiritual reflection. In this time there is a presentation of a review paper by Professor Patricia Casey from the Mater Hospital Dublin, entitled ‘The Psycho-Social benefits of Religious Practice’. She has conclusively demonstrated that those who practise their religious faith have lower levels of depression and suicide. Their marriages do better, they live longer, young people are less prone to engage in risky behaviour with drugs and alcohol and people cope better with bereavement. I briefly examine why these things are true and look at issues of personal value, purpose, forgiveness and support from a living community, that follow from a Christian faith and church involvement.
Unfortunately many of these key findings are not widely known. There is little on the importance of religious belief to be found in standard textbooks on Psychiatry and any mention of the importance of religious belief seems to have been carefully omitted from the literature provided by many voluntary agencies set up to help those with mental health problems.
There are a few of us privileged to see the issues from both camps. I have served as a church pastor for many years in different countries as well as working as a consultant psychiatrist here in Northern Ireland. I believe it is important for people to appreciate the benefits of religious practice as set out by Professor Casey.
Dr Critchlow has travelled throughout Ireland, England, Italy and Moldova, speaking on these issues. Of interest is the fact that this series has previously run in Belfast, Londonderry/Derry, and Armagh. Numbers have consistently been in the 50 to 80 mark and women in their 40s and 50s seem to predominate. Of the people who attend the first part of the evening, about two thirds choose to stay for the spiritual content.