This past week has been ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. Since the pandemic began, people have become much more aware of their mental health. Mental health has also been talked about more on television and in newspapers and magazines, with experts giving advice on how to improve your mental health. However, there are still some people who dismiss others who have mental health issues, implying that they’re making it up or that they need to “get a grip”. Sadly, this type of reaction can happen in churches too.
The title of this blog is a quote of something that was said to me at a previous church after I got diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It implied that I had poor mental health because I wasn’t trusting God. What the person who said it to me didn’t know was that I was probably trusting God more than I ever had. It was the only way I was going to cope! Poor mental health is not down to not trusting God. It is an illness just like any other illness. You wouldn’t tell someone who had flu that they just needed to trust God more, but somehow it seems okay for people who have poor mental health to be told that by others.
Another way in which those who have poor mental health can be treated poorly by some Christians is by having Bible verses quoted at them. Often these verses are only partly quoted or misquoted completely. The verse I had quoted at me the most was Philippians 4 verse 6 which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present yourselves to God”. It’s a great verse! However, what I had said to me was “The Bible says, ‘Do not be anxious about anything!'”, which conveniently left out about praying to God for his help in my situation! This was a big omission as it left me feeling that I was wrong to be ill with anxiety. From my understanding of the verse, the anxiety in the verse has nothing to do with anxiety, the illness, but is about the unnecessary worry and anxiety that we let ourselves be weighed down with. It’s great that Christians want to share Bible verses with those of us with poor mental health, but maybe it would be better to use verses that remind us of how much we are loved by God, rather than ones that can knock an already fragile human being.
Yet another area where those of us with poor mental health can be judged is around taking medication. If I’m honest, I’ve never really understood why. People are usually quite happy to take tablets for a variety of physical health issues. When my doctor suggested that it would be a good idea to have medication, she described it as being like a plaster cast. A plaster cast is put on a limb and supports it while the bone heals. It doesn’t actually heal the bone, it just keeps the bone in the correct position while it heals. It’s the same with mental health medication – it helps to support the brain while it heals. I found this to be a good way of looking at taking medication.
In some churches, even mentioning that you have depression, anxiety or some other mental health condition is looked down upon. The problem with this is that people can then find it difficult to ask for help or admit that they’re struggling. This in turn leads to them feeling shame, often thinking that they shouldn’t be feeling like they do, which in turn makes their mental health get worse. I feel very fortunate to be a part of a church where mental health is talked about, both within the congregation and from the front.
There are a variety of ways in which you can help someone who is struggling with their mental health.
- Listen – Sometimes, the person just wants someone to listen, without judging. You don’t need to have all the answers, just having someone listen will help.
- Learn – Contact Kintsugi Hope to access resources and maybe learn how to run a well-being group. I also recommend getting a copy of ‘Honesty Over Silence’ by Patrick Regan which tackles trusting God when life is painful.
- Practical support – This can be making a meal, doing the shopping, picking up a prescription, etc.
- Keeping in touch – So often people with poor mental health can feel ignored, so send a card or message them. If they feel that they’re up to having a visitor (always ask first!), visit them.
- Pray – Do pray for them. If possible, ask if there is anything specific that they need prayer for. They may not be able to say what they need, but pray anyway!
This is just a brief look at some of the ways you can help, a slightly more detailed look can be found in my blog ‘When the Going Gets Tough’
From my own experience having poor mental health is hard, but let’s make sure that we aren’t adding to someone’s difficulty by our reactions. It really is okay not to be okay!
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