1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer with some sort of mental or emotional health issue every year according to Mind, the mental health charity. You might think to yourself, “well I don’t know of anyone” but that’s the thing, so many people suffer and stay silent. I’m not saying it’s necessary to shout it from the rooftops or talk about it all the time, after all, some aspects could be particularly upsetting; but without being a little more open about the things that trouble us we are only making the problem worse. That’s my experience anyway.
I have experienced some mental health issues and some of the occasions have been since becoming a Christian. Lots of people assume that being a Christian means being happy all the time and not having any issues. Well that just isn’t true. Having Jesus in your life doesn’t mean you never have to face hardships it means you face them with him right there in the battle, with his Holy Spirit dwelling inside you. People often say (and I too have said it) that God will never give us more than we can handle, this isn’t entirely true either. Whilst it does say in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God won’t allow you to be tempted anymore than you can handle, that doesn’t cover other struggles. In C S Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain, he says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. Suffering alerts us to how much we need God. He will give us more than we can handle because alone we can’t handle much. He allows us to suffer sometimes because he plans to use that experience for the good of that individual and often others. This life is so fleeting in comparison to eternity where those who follow Jesus will be completely restored; they will be without sin, without suffering . The work of restoration has already started in those who have invited Jesus into their lives. Sometimes for the restoration to occur we have to go through a particular trial for the work to be done in us. In the bible book of Job God chooses Job to show that Satan has no hold over God’s people. Satan takes pretty much everything from Job; his livelihood, his family, his friends and his health. Job becomes very low and nearly looses his faith in God but Satan doesn’t win. Job continued on walking with the Lord Almighty and because of that everything was restored to him.
For many that path to restoration can include mental health issues and this sometimes isn’t handled well within church. There are plenty of churches that are loving, accepting and embracing of those with mental health issues. The key for me has been making solid friends and having people in the congregation I trust to be honest with me and support me when I need it and visa versa; we help each other. The problems come when someone who is struggling doesn’t receive the love and support they need from their church community. When someone feels isolated or stigmatised by their community because of their illness its not right. All churches need to take some time to consider how they are supporting their congregations and equipping them to support each other.
The organisation Mind and Soul seeks to equip churches and individuals to do this. There are many resources on their website to help with that and to help those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. Often these have been swept under the carpet, not just in the church but in society as a whole. Mind and Soul encourage Christians to confront the prejudices and stigmas they may hold that could provide barriers to people getting help. This video gives a little bit more information.
As a student, I was interested to see what resources there were for us. I think this is an area they are expanding as there isn’t as much in this section as others. I found the podcast particularly helpful. Two of the men who run the organisation deliver it and it was recorded it at a student conference. They speak about emotional wholeness and how every part of us is loved by God; our bodies, minds and souls. You can have a listen yourself here. There is also a variety of articles ranging from how to survive Freshers to details of where to get help. This is definitely a resource I will keep an eye on for resources not just for myself but also for my friends as some of the information is really helpful regardless of whether you believe in Jesus or not.
There are of course other groups who are doing similar things. This is just one that I have found helpful in providing some guidance on the subject. Like the wider population, the church is getting better at discussing mental health and supporting those who struggle with it. Hopefully with time and further awareness all churches can be places that are free from the stigma attached to mental health.