This Wednesday was World Mental Health Day which seeks to raise awareness about mental health issues. I would say probably about 75% of my friends have had a mental health problem. I’ve had mild depression and I have received counselling. I’m saying this here as I am sure quite a few people wouldn’t expect that of me. Mental health affects us all and one in 4 people has a mental health condition. We really need to stop the stigma about it – mental illness is an illness just as severe as cancer, heart failure or any other ‘physical’ illness.
If you don’t know much about mental health I would encourage you to watch this video from Ruby Wax where she talks about her own mental health issues – in a very amusing way.
I think the church still has a very long way to go to supporting people with mental health problems. I love the story of Elijah in the Old Testament. It is a very early story of a man faced with mental health problems after what should have been the most impressive day of his life. He defeats 450 of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel to proclaim his God as Lord and shortly after this amazing climax of his ‘career’ so far, he crashes:
He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ – 1 Kings 19:4
God doesn’t abandon him. He doesn’t chastise him for wishing he was dead. Slowly and gently the Lord restores Elijah and gives him a new purpose and direction for his life and a new companion with whom to share his journey – Elisha.
How does the LORD restore Elijah? Here are 3 things that God provides that we can also offer friends and family who have mental health issues:
- Food (v5) – a simple gesture we can offer friends who are struggling is to provide a meal or cake (cake is always good!)
- Encouragement to move (v7-8) – another thing we can do is to encourage friends to get out of the house, go for a simple walk or to the gym. Physical activity can really help with depression. If you have a dog, why not ask if the friend would like to take it for a walk?
- Acknowledgement of the problem (v9-10):
And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’
Naming the problem can really help. Encourage your friend, if they’re ready, to share their story. Let them cry, let them get angry. Don’t try and offer a solution, just listen and let them name their grief.
Here is a prayer for the mentally ill from Mind and Soul:
Be Father Lord, when I turn to run away from your embrace;
Catch me in your strong, sweet caress should I turn from the race,
And when I scream distress, shout not human reason in my face,
But talk me down, softly into a quiet, safe, intimate space.
Bring smiles to shine upon distorted ways, I simply pray,
Change my actions for the better with every passing of the day.
When electrons fire in double speed at a continuous pace,
Into a confined constricted place; capture me in your loving grace!
Quell the doubts kept hidden in garments of praise,
Whilst others whisper words of distaste in judgement’s haste.
Love’s fire flames – scream thoughts, once imprisoned and encased,
Out beyond lives wasted, into the heart’s fertile and limitless place.
Open me again as I stand at a distance, in disbelief and disease;
Soothe me in a quiet voice, as a father who knows and yet is well pleased.
Coax me gently back again as before, into your light of loving grace;
Recapture my tearful face, Daddy, in the palms of your embrace.
Show me love beyond the moon, even in the crevices of sin’s disgrace;
Help me forgive sounds of distrust, sitting in humanity’s disregarding face.
Lead me through shadows of tainted separation, to dance in unity with you,
Entering peace that surpasses all understanding: knowing you to be truth.
- Anon, 28/08/2012
Spare a prayer for all those who struggle with mental illness today and pray for eyes to see the need around you.
A fantastic resource for Christians in this area is Mind and Soul. Stephen Fry also linked on Twitter today to a site called the Art of Recovery that contains resources for individuals on overcoming mental illness.