Read the Martinez Gazette article on Violence and Mental Health

My primary vocation is as a priest in the Episcopal Church, but this was not my first career. My most recent job prior to becoming an Episcopal priest was as a Forensic Neuropsychologist. In that role, I worked at a state mental hospital, helping treatment teams make determinations as to proper placements for mentally ill individuals being held in relationship to legal codes like Competency to Stand Trial and Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. So I know a thing or two about mental illness and violence.

In my current role as the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez, I am able to more directly attempt to assist individuals suffering from conditions like mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness –and one of the things I can tell you is that many people are confused about the relationship between these things. A recent article from the journal Violence and Health (“Health Affairs: Evolving Public Views on the Likelihood of Violence from People with Mental Illness: Stigma and Its Consequences”) indicates that negative attitudes toward individuals with mental illness have been increasing in the United States. According to the authors, who “examined trends in public perceptions of violence and support for coerced treatment across a twenty-two-year period using data from three National Stigma Studies … Perceptions regarding potential violence and support for coercion generally rose over time—significantly so for schizophrenia. By 2018 over 60 percent of respondents saw people who met criteria for schizophrenia as dangerous to others, and 44–59 percent supported coercive treatment.”  Such attitudes were strongest for psychotic disorders, but were also found in attitudes about people who suffer from depression and even individuals described as having “nonclinical ‘daily troubles.’”

Such attitudes are not supported by facts. Repeated studies by psychiatric, psychological and law enforcement researchers have found that individuals who suffer from mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. This is particularly true of mass shootings, which have increased exponentially in recent years. Although public figures have continued to suggest that mental illness is to blame for such violence incidents, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. According to the authors of the Violence and Health study the idea that mass violence is perpetrated by mentally ill individuals is “political discourse” rather than research data. They note that “The link between violence and mental illness has been scientifically documented to be weak, at best, for a least three decades” and cite research that concluded, “Even if we had a cure for serious mental illnesses that completely eliminated active psychotic and mood disorders, the problem of interpersonal violence in the population would be reduced only by an estimated four percent, while 96 percent of violent acts would still occur.”

One of the things that I like to tell parishioners at Grace is that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is fear.” Doubt is a subset of curiosity, a natural human instinct which encourages learning. It is not sinful to question the nature of God, humanity, or religious belief. From a Christian perspective, Jesus frequently both asked and answered questions about God and his own mission on earth. On the other hand, fear can be deadly. It encourages separation between people. It causes us to turn our backs instead on those in need instead of helping them. Unwarranted fear of our sisters and brothers who suffer from mental illnesses causes us to neglect them. This is not consistent with the words and actions of Jesus the Christ.

Grace Episcopal Church is a member congregation of The Episcopal Church. Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, refers to us as “The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement,” encouraging us to see our faith not as a rigid, institutional monolith but as a lively, active effort to follow the teachings of Jesus. We welcome everyone. Each Sunday, Grace celebrates Holy Eucharist, Rite II from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Our 10 a.m. service is a Choral Eucharist with Sunday school and Nursery Care. On our Family Sundays (the third Sunday of each month), we use simpler and more familiar hymns so that our children will know them and sing along.

Want to participate in a book discussion group? Come drop in on the Grace Book Club! We meet on the third Wednesday of the month. We’d love to see you! Our next get-together is this evening at 6:30 p.m., at Smooth Season restaurant at Muir Station shopping center, when we will discuss The Lottery by D.K. Wall.  This Saturday, October 19, we will celebrate our Annual Oktoberfest, which includes German food, and beverages, entertainment and a raffle. Social hour begins at 5 pm, followed by dinner at 6 pm. Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $6 for children aged 10 and under.

Grace offers monthly educational forums on broad-ranging topics like The Dead Sea Scrolls, Episcopal Polity, Recycling, and Emergency Preparedness for congregations. These take place in the Parish Hall following our 10 a.m. service (approximately 11:30).  This Sunday October 20, we will welcome The Rev. Canon Abbott Bailey, Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of California. Canon Abbott will be Presiding and Preaching at both the 8 and 10 a.m. services and then conducting a forum on the role of the Canon to the Ordinary in our church structure.  She will also answer your questions about the policies and procedures of DioCal.

Rehearsals are ongoing for our newest musical addition, “The Amazing Grace Youth Choir.” Children ages seven and up are invited to come to rehearsals every Sunday following our 10 a.m. service (at approximately 11:30) and learn to read, appreciate, and perform music in a low-stress environment. There is no requirement to be a member of the parish and no fees. If you are interested in enrolling your child or simply finding out more, please contact Mr. Omura at music@gracechurchmtz.org.

Each Wednesday at 10 a.m. we offer Holy Eucharist followed by Bible Study in our Chapel.  We are currently studying, “Following the Way of Jesus.” The book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Church Publishing. However, you do not need to purchase the book to take part. Grace also offers monthly educational forums on broad-ranging topics. These take place in the Parish Hall following our 10 a.m. service (approximately 11:30). You can find out more about Grace Church on our website, www.gracechurchmtz.org. Come and be part of our community!

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