Quakers’ longstanding concern for mental health, and one Friend’s experience

Beverley Goddard writes:

Mental health and well-being have been an important concern for Quakers for many years. As far back as the eighteenth century, Friends wanted people suffering from mental illnesses to be treated with compassion and in a way that offered hope.

This led to the founding of a new kind of hospital in 1792: The Retreat, York. You can read more about The Retreat’s history and its work today here.

The original building of The Retreat, York instituted in 1792 (image: Wikimedia)

For today’s Quakers there are groups and resources that we can turn to for support as we respond to our own mental distress or that of others in our meetings or families. There is a dedicated website to learn more about what is available here.

And this web site gives contact details of The Retreat York Benevolent Fund which is a grant-making charity offering financial support for mental health treatment and projects. The website also includes the personal stories of Quakers who have lived experience of mental distress; for example you can download Mental Health Conversations here.

It takes courage for people to share their deeply personal stories but it is from their experience and knowledge that we learn and our work can grow. One of our Bath Friends, Margaret, has agreed to share her experience of depression and hope.

Margaret writes:

As part of Bath Quakers’ shared accounts of our spiritual journeys I wanted to share some thoughts on depression.

This can take various forms and have different causes but my experience of it is that it is helpful and treatable. Above all it is not something to hide or be ashamed about.

A certain hesitation in writing and speaking about it is understandable. It means revealing what happens in our minds and in our lives. In my case there is a reluctance to blame others when I myself know how much I regret and have got horribly wrong in relationships.

We all sit somewhere on the enneagram of personality which causes us sometimes to act out of what we like to think is our character at its best. Some people seem oblivious to their effect on others. We all have our shadow sides.

Many of our most helpful spiritual leaders have gone through dark patches and emerged with greater insights and empathy.

Never lose hope. I only sorted out my own bouts of depression in my 80s. A chance remark made me look up the term “control freak” and better understand the term “narcissist” (which I find does not trip off my tongue). What causes it remains a mystery to me, but the description tallied exactly with my own deep early experience. Once I realised this I was freed.

Bath Quakers have such good helpers among our elders and others. I hope nobody feeling down would ever be inhibited about seeking help. It is not necessary to be ashamed if you suffer from depression. Though there can be many different causes take heart; something might well be done to give you the understanding you need.


If Margaret’s experience leads you to learn more about depression or other mental health conditions, or if you are seeking help:

Beverley Goddard is a Trustee of The Retreat York.

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