Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day.
One day, I hope that ‘days’ like this will not be necessary.
Because of my faith in Jesus, I have a sure and certain hope that that will one day be the case.
Because of my depression, I doubt and imagine a darker future.
Because of my anxiety, I worry away each day.
Because of suicidal thoughts, I long for an end.
So Mental Health Awareness Day is a bittersweet day for me. Bitter because, on a good day, I can imagine and expierence what it is like to not have something in my head that I don’t want there. Bitter, because suddenly everyone on social media seems to care, but then on other days they seem to nod awkwardly, or not know how to handle it. Bitter, ultimately, because it is a reminder of my humanity, my frailty, and my weakness. And yet it is in this weakness, this brokenness, this humanity, and this frailty, that a day like to day starts to sweeten. Sweet, because meeting with a friend from church to pray this morning it was ok to share my thoughts, feelings and fears. Sweet, because I am surprised by how blessed I am. Sweet, because there is a chance – oh, just a chance – that a day like today is a sign of a coming day, a resurrection day, when there will be no more tears.
Regular blog readers will know that my wife and I were at one point entrusted with curating a theology-themed monthly evening service at our church. The final one of the first three was focused on how we can speak meaningfully and theologically into the problem and question of suffering. You can read the full script on the blog here, but I want to signpost particularly the second half. I’d been challenged that theology can often seem abstract, disconnected from experience and real life. Personally, that has never been further from the truth. So, against my wishes and with the risks of being vulnerable in a culture that applauds it but doesn’t really want to deal with mess and brokenness, I shared.
And so, if you read one thing, one theme, one idea, one word in this blog post, let it be Jesus’ name. As I said, simultaneously grateful for our pastors trusting me – me, a person wracked with sin and wrestling with mental health problems that occasionally confine me to bed and make me hurt myself and those around me – and terrified of what might happen, a little about my story, I realised that ultimately the connection between the theology I have come to believe and the reality of the pain of parts of my life, is Jesus:
“The reason that my story has led me through my theology towards my current perspective is because of the person I have met in the process. I believe I have met Jesus – who suffered – in the process of understanding what God is up to, this side of the Resurrection and renewal of all things. At times, I’ve been so overwhelmed by a bleaknessss and sense of giving up, that the only thing that has helped has been knowing that God is in control, and is, in the words of the Bible, working together all things for good for those who love him. For me, this theological position of trust has helped keep Amy and my relationship together, got me through university, and, with no exaggeration, kept me alive. For me, knowing that Jesus suffered more than I ever can shows me that God loves those who suffer and does not abandon them. And the Resurrection reminds me and challenges me that death and pain are not, ever, the final word.“
Jesus has often been described as the great physician. My experience has been that Jesus heals, and when healing doesn’t happen on the timescale we might like, Jesus is still there, with us, for us, and loving us.
Please, if you think mental health issues are not real, reconsider what it might mean to discover that they are.
Please, if you are wrestling with mental health problems that cripple and confine you, talk to someone. If you don’t have anyone else, the Samaritans are a great place to start.
This ‘World Mental Health Day’, why not take a step towards the light?
I’d love to recommend a few things/books that I’ve found helpful:
- Mark Meynell’s When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend – a powerful book, particularly good for people in ministry or leadership and wrestling with Mental Health issues.
- Rachel Newham’s Learning to Breathe – a beautiful book, quick and easy to read, rooted in biblical theology and ideal for younger people.
- The Samaritans are great to talk to, and To Write Love on Her Arms is another good place to start to find help.
- My own blog series/MA essay on suicide and the sovereignty of God. You might also find my thoughts on Christianity and Depression helpful, or a reflection on the goodness of God amidst suffering.
- [Added in 2023, published in 2020] – Sharon Hastings’ stunning memoir of serious mental health, Wrestling With My Thoughts
- [Added in 2023, post published in 2022] – John Swinton’s profound Finding Jesus in the Storm accurately captured some of my own experience – even if I wouldn’t agree with everything he writes.