We all have mental health – just as we all have physical health – and it can be good or bad. The most commonly quoted statistics say that one in four people will experience mental health problems, with one in ten suffering at any given time. We also know that in our communities, complex mental health conditions are more common than in the wider population, probably because of the stigmas associated with our gender identities and sexual orientations. This fear of people’s reactions can also be a barrier to finding effective treatment. It is unfortunately also true that churches are not always safe places to discuss or disclose mental health conditions. Poor mental health can sometimes be interpreted as an indicator of a lack of faith, and some symptoms are interpreted as a person being ‘difficult’.
Jesus met a man forced to live outside his hometown, in the caves near where his erstwhile neighbours kept their pigs. He was harming himself and talking in a way that people couldn’t (or didn’t choose to) understand. Only Jesus approached and addressed him directly, asked him his name, and offered help. The man had for so long been identified by his problems that he even gave his name as “Legion” for the many ways in which he felt attacked by his thoughts and feelings. Relieved of them, he was calm for the first time in years. He didn’t lose his history – and the people around him are unlikely to forget it, even if they bring him back into the community – but he was in a position to make his own decisions once again and he chose to rest at Jesus’ feet amongst the disciples.
It is not always easy to follow God in the midst of crisis, particularly when your mind is in chaos, but it should feel safe to be amongst the people of God. The people of God who follow Jesus are called to have the courage to stand with one who is isolated even from their experience of themself and to ask their name. In the midst of crisis, it is hard to feel loved or wanted, but a hand held or a shared cup of tea can reach through the Legion of difficult, destructive feelings and anchor someone to the world and the people around them.
I have always had difficulties with my mental health – just like some people do with their physical health – and one of the ways it manifests for me is a fear of being on my own. I find it hard to sit in silence and pray when I am feeling unwell, but sharing with a prayer partner or being part of a congregation is very soothing. Others find it hard to be in a group when they are anxious or depressed and might forgo church for a time. Reaching out to someone you’ve not seen for a while might not feel like much, and you might not even see its effect, but it can be the difference between a bad day and a better one.
Our mental health is precious. Get to know what soothes your spirit, and take time for it regularly. If you think someone else might be suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and invite them to name their pain. When they are ready to ask for help, they will need someone to be Christ to them.
If you are suffering today, please reach out to someone and know God is with you.