Guest Writer: Amy Gavin sheds the light of truth on the taboo topic of mental health in the christian community.
Encouragement. Acceptance. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” Romans 15:5-7
My Heart is heavy my friends. My heart hurts because I’ve experienced myself and witnessed my friends sequestering themselves off and hurting alone. There are a thousand reasons that break apart faithful Christians and leave them in isolation, however there is one that God has shed light on for me personally and in the lives of those around me. The pain and stigma wrapped up in Mental Health. Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Addictions…. Why are we fighting alone?
Let me begin by standing up and saying… I suffer from Clinical Depression. I take medication for it, I have coping skills that I have learned though counseling and (here is the crux of my hurting heart) I. don’t. tell. anyone. I find myself in a dark corner sometimes, feeling the isolation wrap around my heart. I wonder why I’m so messed up and can’t get a grip on my emotions. I push away those I love and close the door on those who try to get in. I can’t reach out. It takes a flurry of determination and prayer to bust out of the corner and breathe again. And I still don’t tell anyone. Why?
In addition to suffering myself, I work for a major Mental Health organization in the area. (Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or licensed counselor at all!) I have the job of answering calls from new patients looking for help. I am struck time and time again, day in and day out, how much fear and shame comes along with just seeking help. Why? I hear the hesitancy, the hopelessness, and the utter dejection in the voices of some of these brave souls. All I can do to offer a friendly voice of encouragement and pray silently for each one.
Over the years I’ve heard many descriptions of what it looks like to suffer daily from different mental health issues, but no other analogy grabbed me like the one my sister Megan used to explain her struggles. She said it this way: “Imagine if you will that you are out with your friends and you are trying to enjoy your time, have conversations, and pick out food all in a loud restaurant exploding with tons of stimulating decor. Now add another layer- your phone keeps buzzing with texts from a cruel bully- a bully that knows your every weakness and enjoys exploiting them. If you ignore the texts the bully gets louder and more aggressive so you can’t throw your phone away. Instead you keep swiping the messages away trying to keep anyone from noticing.”
Now as a Christian my sister memorized key verses to try and help at these times. She tucked away the verse: “Do not be anxious about anything but through prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6”, also she would quote 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” One of the hardest things about being a Christian and struggling with these things is that sometimes the texts from the bully are louder than you can cover. You feel a deep shame and think that you’re not a good enough Christian to make the bully in your head shut up. That lie has conquered many souls and left people in the dark for far too long.
My sister continued her analogy this way, “As the night goes on you are worn out from swiping away messages. As you get tired of fighting- the phone calls start. You struggle to respond with truth to every lie the angry little demon is saying. All while interacting with people laughing, making jokes, ordering, eating, thinking, taking pictures, etc. Exhausted yet? Maybe a bit overwhelmed? A quiet dark room with no one around sounds kind of nice, right? That is what anxiety, depression, and ADD looks like to me. I struggled with all of this in silence.”
Depression tells you to give up; Anxiety tells you that if you’re a step out of line you’ll lose it all. Addictions tell you that you’re worthless because you struggle, it tells you to keep going back to what makes it feel even a tiny bit better. We cannot do this alone. Often people ask why you don’t just avoid going out when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety and depression tell you: “your friends will think you don’t care about them if you don’t go.” Anxiety and Depression will tell you, “If you don’t go they will not be your friend anymore.” The lies multiply. We cannot do this alone.
Let’s get down to the brass tacks here; the bottom line. When you suffer from a medical condition, I will make it easy- a broken leg- it’s expected that you see a doctor. No questions asked. In fact if you don’t see a doctor people would be confused by your decision. If you suffer from clinical depression or from debilitating anxiety society tends to say “just suck it up”, or “cheer up” or even “Don’t worry.” Even more alarming is when the Church culture reaction is the same or when their response is to offer hollow Christian platitudes and flippant “I’ll pray for you” comments in passing. Now before I get the angry emails… I believe in the power of prayer, I believe in healing, and I know God can do all things. I have seen His almighty hand change the lives of those around me. I have felt his presence wrapped around me even in the darkness. I also know that sometimes God asks His people to endure suffering. Whether that is a physical pain or sickness, a form of depression or anxiety, or it’s a financial state, or living in a far off country for His sake… we are not guaranteed a 100% happy and healthy life as Christians. In fact the Bible reminds us in John 16:33 that in this life we will have troubles- but in the end God receives the glory. (“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV)
I am not pouring out my heart here just to shake a finger at everyone and throw blame around. I have felt very strongly that there are two areas God wants to shed His light on. The first: If you are one of the millions of people suffering from Depression, anxiety, addictions, or any other mental health issues- you are never alone. I am one of you. There are other Christians suffering in silence too, speak out. Speak life. Satan seeks to divide God’s people, to isolate Christians in their own suffering so that they are made ineffective to God’s kingdom. Don’t let Satan have that power, don’t let him win. I am one of you, and you are not alone. You are not “less” of a Christian for struggling, you are exactly who God created you to be. If you need help, it is out there. Medications can work, therapists can offer help. There are tons of resources and professionals who can offer great care- seek it.
The second: Love one another. Encourage one another. Maybe you don’t understand what depression looks like. That’s okay- you don’t have to understand to offer your support. Maybe you think none of this applies to the people you know…. chances are it does. Chances are someone you’re close to struggles in silence. Maybe you are really trying to figure out what the big deal with depression and anxiety is. Thank you for trying to figure it out. Please do so with love and encouragement. Really look to the person standing beside you, ask the real questions, and lift each other up. When one of your brothers or sisters in the Lord says “Hey, I’m not okay”- love them, accept them, speak life to them, and encourage them. Because when we do this- in one voice, we praise God. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” Romans 15:5-7
As a community if we are honest with our struggles, and ready to support each other, wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing? If there was no stigma involved in seeking help for mental health issues, would we stop suffering in silent isolation? If those around us helped swipe away the comments from the bully- would they lose their urgency? If we stopped focusing on our own darkness and brought it instead into the light, would it fade away? I don’t know the answers to all these questions- but man do I want to find out! Let’s figure it out together.