As the new academic year approached, I found myself feeling a disappointed sense of relief. I’ve reached my second year. After three attempts to complete first year; the first two attempts being when I crumbled under the state of my mental health.
However, God has often gently reminded me of all He has revealed to me and the way He has changed me throughout the continual, repeating process of healing and falling and standing up again.
Amidst the two years I spent in hospital, God spent entangling my life with and breaking my heart for other sufferers. Entwining my heart with the lives of theirs so that their stories became intrinsic to mine, calling me to love those whose chains were outwardly invisible.
I am endlessly grateful for the way God has blessed and protected me; aside from the love of family and friends, I have been somehow lucky in the ‘postcode lottery’ for access to mental health services. Nonetheless, I have seen very clearly and bleakly a few of the many individuals misunderstood and rejected by society, abandoned and dismissed by services as they are left to be tormented by invalidated mental afflictions.
Although, certainly in my experience, mental health awareness has grown increasingly over the years within society and also within the Church, it still remains globally stigmatised and unrecognised to be as debilitating and dangerous as physical illness.
Initially, perhaps it’s a little less obvious how and why God calls for justice for those suffering with poor mental health.
Although if one takes a step back to view the wider picture, statistics and facts make it increasingly clear; far too many news stories report individuals pushed away from services as their struggles and symptoms are not life-threatening enough.
If you go to the doctor with symptoms of the initial stages of cancer, are you informed that you can’t be helped until you have reached stage 4 of the illness? No? Then why should we be accepting or adopting this approach for mental health?
God calls us
“to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke”!
There are so many around us choking on invisible ‘chains’, ‘oppressed’ with difficult thoughts and emotions (or lack of emotion at all) that prohibits one from being able to experience and feel the freedom and love Christ has for them.
In walking alongside and with other sufferers God has exposed me to the world of many that suffer silently without the adequate love and support they need:
There are children and adults resorting to a number of severe self-harm incidents or suicide attempts before support was even considered for them.
Individuals suffering from bulimia slip into comas and lose their lives due to lethal electrolyte imbalances, but are not taken seriously by services because they are not necessarily underweight.
There are adults with anorexia trapped in decades of cycles of forced weight gain and relapse because only the physical symptoms are recognised and addressed and used to define ‘recovery’. Anorexia actually has the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric disorder, more often due to suicide rather than just the physical complications.
Sufferers of depression unable to work that are denied receiving benefits because although their bodies are capable of performing normal, daily tasks, the heavy, choking and compressing weight of depression makes simple tasks of even self-care feel extremely overwhelming.
There are men suffering silently for too many years before it’s too late because of the societal pressure and impression that to display vulnerability is to display weakness. Three quarters of suicides in the UK are male. Just 11% of eating disorder suffers in the UK are reported to be male – but does the number of males who have been able to reach for support reflect the true proportion of male sufferers?
Many left untreated for psychological issues which began at an early age, often resort to dangerous, unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drug addiction, which is also often followed by rejection from family/friends/community, homelessness and crime.
This is only a tiny glimpse into the world of mental health and the way it lies behind or arises from many other injustices in this world.
Looks a bit overwhelming, right? In the face of all this, I find so much encouragement and hope in this following passage from Isaiah 61. For now, I’ll leave you to ponder over the richness and beauty of these verses, and listen to how God wishes to use you to ‘proclaim freedom’ and ‘release’ for those struggling with mental health:
The Year of the Lord’s Favour
61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Esther Hung | 2nd year @ St Cats