Every year in May I try to write up something for Mental Health Awareness Month. Generally I try to write about ways that the church should become better ambassadors for people who struggle with mental illness or ways to be an ally to a struggling friend. But this time around, I thought I would write to those who find themselves in a difficult place.
I recognize that with mental illness there is no “quick fix.” I also recognize that proof-texting and throwing the Bible at someone has often done more harm than good. Everyone is different and there is no “one-size” fits all approach. Nevertheless, here is a bit of practical advice if you ever find yourself in this situation:
DON’T STRUGGLE ALONE IN THE DARKNESS, COME INTO THE LIGHT.
Depression can feel like a boa constrictor tight around your neck. It can fill your heart and mind with doubts. If this is your first time experiencing depression you might get these odds little thoughts coming into your mind telling you that you are going crazy or that no one else experiences this or that you are all alone in your sadness. If these thoughts remain unresolved they might even get worse. They may tell you no one likes you, no one cares what you are going through, or the worst of it all – that no one would miss you if you were to leave us. This is not true! Listen, there is help out there! There are tons of people who love you! There are tons of people who want to see you get better and there are tons of people who would be absolutely devastated and heart-wrenched if you were to leave us. It just doesn’t always feel like this because this boa constrictor is sucking all the energy out of you and you have no reserves left to fight with. In which case, the only One who can fight for you is the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself!
I am convinced that our greatest enemy is the night. When we are surrounded by darkness, we stumble and fall. When things are brought into the light, we can see clearly and recognize signs of hope and healing all around us. Our greatest difficulty lies in thinking that we need to be ashamed. That we shouldn’t talk about our experiences. That it is not socially acceptable to be forthright and honest. This shame leads us further into privacy. Instead of seeking the help that we need, we go into ourselves and we continue on in our destructive habits and attitudes.
LISTEN: it shouldn’t have to be this way. As I have said on multiple occasions, the church should be the number one place where we can go to openly discuss such things. In the church, there should be no topic that is out of bounds. People should be encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions without fear of being judged and instead should feel totally accepted, embraced, and loved. However, because the church is an imperfect human institution this is often not the case. But thankfully, we serve a perfect God who loves us even despite our own imperfections.
TALK TO SOMEONE
If you ever feel like life is getting to you to the point that you cannot cope, go talk to someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional (though that can be helpful) – it could just be a really good friend, mentor, or pastor. Just find someone you trust who you can be totally frank and open with. Pour out your heart to them and ask them to listen to your story. Sometimes all it takes is just a listening ear. In other cases, it might take more, but talking is a great place to start. Perhaps depending on the person they could even draw your attention to some resources or make some referrals to you.
LEAN IN TO GOD
Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on God. Depression is hard – it’s living in a world of dark rainbows. BUT God is stronger and it is also entirely possible to have some of your deepest moments with Christ when you are in the valley of the shadow. Sometimes the best time to look up is when you are lying down flat on your back. It’s so comforting to know that when we are feeling depressed, we don’t necessarily need the strength or the words to talk to God. In fact, the Bible tells us that when we don’t know how to pray like we should, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with grunts and groans which words cannot express (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A26-27). This shows how God is taking care of us and He will always love us the same way regardless of what we experience or are faced with. Sometimes you might not have the strength to pull yourself out of bed to go to church or even to read lengthy Bible passages – in which case, my number one recommendation is to turn to the Psalms. David’s prayers were often infused with emotion (and it wasn’t always positive). You don’t need to expend creative energy when the strength is leaving your mind and body – just pray like David did, pray his words – they’re already written out right in front of you and can basically say whatever it is you wanted to say. If you don’t even have strength for that, maybe you could play some of your favourite worship (or soothing) music in the background and really let it minister to you and seep into your soul.
In all things, don’t give up. In the moment, depression might feel like it will last forever, but it really won’t. You will get better. You will recover. It might be a long process and you might continue to struggle for a very long time, but there is always light at the end of every tunnel. Don’t be ashamed to speak up about these things and don’t be afraid to lean on the Everlasting Arms of the Saviour who promises to comfort and strengthen you during the difficult storms.