As I’m writing this article it is the week of National Suicide Prevention, so I thought it would be fitting to make an article about all things related to mental health and awareness.
First off, I want to say I’m sorry. As someone that is a part of the Church as a whole, who calls myself a Christian, I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt invalidated, overlooked, brushed under the rug, or discounted by someone in the church if you have or currently struggle with a mental illness. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or any mental illness as a whole are all real and valid. You, by myself and God, if no one else, are seen and loved.
I’m glad that my introduction is out of the way and we can just kick our feet up for a while and just chat.
The Facts on Mental Health
I want to dive headfirst into what is some shocking but eye-opening truths about mental illness not only in the US but more importantly within the Church.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness around 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness at one time or another in a year, and 1 in 25 have some sort of experience that actually interferes with their day to day living.
What is so surprising about those statistics to me is that it is just talking about the U.S. as a whole. Not even Christian vs. Non-Christian, it’s just people as the general public. Which begs the question: Why do we as a Church act like mental illness is some sort of monster when the statistics show that an overwhelming majority of people are dealing with it?
In conjunction, a study done by LifeWay Research in collaboration with Focus on the Family found that over half (59%) of pastors have counseled one or more people who were at one point diagnosed with a mental illness.
All of this points to the fact that mental illness is a very real thing, and the church is no exception. It is just as important as finances, marital counseling, or any other topic that people are asking about when they are seeking help within their local church.
What Can We Do About Mental Illness?
So now what? With all of these facts and figures in our face, it can feel somewhat overwhelming and make anyone want to push the issue even farther away. But that’s exactly where we need to see the change. The best thing we can do for helping those with mental illness is spreading awareness, not being afraid of those hard conversations, and seeking help if you need help. The statistics are not there to scare you, but to reinforce the fact that there is a problem with mental illness, and it’s affecting more people than you realize.
I am actually on a journey of learning more about the role that anxiety specifically has played in my life. However, I never would have gotten here, to a point where I am learning to deal with what is going on in my heart and mind if I didn’t have people in my life who weren’t afraid of challenging how I reacted to situations around me. I welcome and look for people who continually remind me of who I am in Jesus and what that means for my mind, will and emotions. I also look for people who aren’t in my life to fix or change me because they simply lack understanding of what I’m going through and just want me to be perfect. Those aren’t the type of people that someone who is struggling needs in their life.
God’s Role In Mental Health
The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Notice how this verse doesn’t say “Don’t feel anxiety, it’s bad! You’re bad if you’re anxious!”, it says the opposite! It’s saying when, not if you feel anxious, that God is caring enough that He wants to take the burden of anxiety away from you. He isn’t upset with you for feeling it and neither should the Church when someone expresses what is going on in their inner world.
God is the first one in line that wants to hug you and love you and remind you of how He sees you and why you matter. He is never the one to cast the first stone at you and neither should we.
It’s our job as Christians to be light in the dark world. Being a light doesn’t mean telling someone to get over it, or that it’s just a phase and they’re being dramatic. Being a light looks like being there for someone if they’re needing help. Asking them if there is anything you can do to help them, and if not, praying for them and encouraging them that this too shall pass.
Even in some specific circumstances, we may need to direct them to a professional that has been trained to help people in these situations because sometimes that is the best move for that person to make. I would also add most importantly, to just love them. Don’t try to be the one who fixes them, don’t embarrass them, and don’t make changing their life your vendetta. Love, accept and do what you can to protect them. That’s exactly what I feel like Jesus would have done and in fact, He does now.
In short, whether you’re a churchgoer, a pastor, a volunteer, or even a student, mental health is never something that should be taken lightly. If you are dealing with mental illness or struggling with in your mind you are worthy of having a life full of a healthy and thriving mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wholeness. You’re worth it, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.