Priest in the night
Dialling 999 here gets you in touch with our police, ambulance or fire services. There is a very different approach in Sweden. Phone their national emergency number 112 at night-time and you are also given the option to speak to a priest on duty from the Church of Sweden. Canon pastor of the cathedral of Stockholm, Ulf Lindgren, has spent many nights on the helpline.
The helpline is open from 9pm to 6am, every night, and my shift is four hours. On the helpline, I can’t change the life of the caller, not cure them – but I can listen to them. I listen to their story and stay with them in their anxiety. To a person with a mental health problem, I often say how brave it was of them to grab the phone and talk about their vulnerability with a stranger. That changes their perspective on themselves from a victim to a person with options.
When an emergency suicidal call is coming I hear it on the breathing – because the caller can’t breathe properly. You can’t talk to them, because they are in a state of shock. So, I ask them three questions: do you have a pet, do you do any sport, what food do you like? Strange questions! But they work.
The goal is to activate the bodily memories through the senses; the hand touching the dog, the tongue touched by food or muscles moved by action. When these memories reach the brain, they calm it down and already after a couple of minutes you can start talking to the caller and ask them to move from the rails or to put the knife away.
I also have elderly men calling, the biggest suicidal group in Sweden. They tell me that they are sitting with the gun or the rope or will drown themselves. Also to them I have three questions.
First, I ask how they will kill themselves; to take away the romantic flavour and put words on the often rather messy details. Then I ask who will discover them. Many have thought about these questions already and have answers. So, my third question is crucial: “Who will cry for you tomorrow when you are dead?” Because this is the core of the problem – their solitude.
The question helps them to scan their everyday life and often they say with some astonishment: the postman, the lady in the newspaper shop. They discover that they are not alone after all.
Why do I leave my bed and listen to people’s problems? I get my inspiration from the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. When Christ suffered in agony, the disciples failed him and fell asleep.
Tonight, I have a chance to do better.
When the callers, drowning in anxiety, talk to me, I try to see Christ in them, and stay with them without having the power to change their life. In this we both remember God’s promise to be with us and in us until the end of time – whatever happens.
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Articles in this issue...
Rest – Enjoy – Pray
As I write this I have recently returned from a General Synod meeting in York. We go to York each year in early July, meeting and staying on York University campus; it is a delightful setting and usually the atmosphere is noticeably more relaxed and friendly than when we meet in the business-like atmosphere of Church House in London.More
The battle on the front line of mental health service funding
I am often asked from where my interest in mental health stems, and partly it is born out of personal experience. I had postnatal depression and, although not severe in comparison to others, it was enough to make me aware.More
Championing Mental Health at Norwich Cathedral
Andy Bryant explores the way the Cathedral is helping those struggling with their mental health.More
Mental health first aid
As a volunteer with North Breckland Youth for Christ I work with a variety of young people in school lunch clubs, youth cafés and other events. Over the years I’ve seen young people struggling with their emotions and mental wellbeing for reasons such as bullying, bereavement, and family breakdown.More
I would stop at nothing to end everything
Ten per cent of children and young people (ages 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem yet 70 per cent of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age*. Norfolk teenager Hannah Green share her story of how her faith has helped.More
Wellbeing in church schools
Working in our church schools is a real privilege. It is so rewarding to see children develop, acquire new skills and interests and make great progress during their formative years.More
Churches can provide mental health friendly communities
Emilie Ruddick, mental health professional in North Norfolk explains how churches are stepping up to support their local communities.More
Recovering friendly church – join the conversation
The Revd Patrick Jordan extends an invitation to join a new network in the diocese discovering how we can practically approach the issue of mental health illness and wellbeing in our local communities.More
Hearing Voices – sharing experiences of struggles with mental health
Hearing Voices is a forum organised between Norwich cathedral with the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust and the Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust where people can come and share their struggles with mental health.More
After the fire came a gentle whisper
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways; these words open a hymn that begins softly but builds to the tremendous crescendo of the final verse where we confront earthquake, wind and fire only to find God in the still small voice of calm.More