If you are here from part 1 of the blog post, perhaps you’re wondering what God might call us to do in the face of all these mental difficulties that surround us, hidden under tired cheeks attempting to push up the edges of lips.
Although we cannot ever fully comprehend the experience for the suffering individuals, we can have confidence in Jesus, who has the deepest knowledge and understanding of what one is feeling, battling with and going through. He himself experienced intense pain and emotional distress, complete desolation and abandonment – mental suffering was definitely not alien to Him.
I’ll disclose a few thoughts I feel God places on my heart to practise!
- Recognise that everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health!
Let’s scroll back to the beginning of Michaelmas. The delightful season of Fresher’s flu! Some lucky ones slide into term unscathed by the national and international influx of pathogens. Many of us are probably unfortunate enough to spend our first few weeks generously sharing our coughs and sniffles to the rest of the students in the lecture theatre. Occasionally, perhaps the stomach ache turns out to be a symptom of something more serious, especially if left untreated.
Similarly, we will all have times of poorer mental health which for some can develop into a condition which impacts on a more day-to-day basis for a longer period of time.
- Reflect your relationship with God in your relationship with others
God calls and desires for us to be intimate, vulnerable and open with Him. Let’s show that as ambassadors of Christ in our human relationships, especially in a culture and society where openness and vulnerability is often portrayed as a weakness.
Take charge of creating an environment around you which naturally promotes good mental health; an atmosphere where openness and honesty about each other’s emotions are welcomed. If you feel able, take the initiative and step forward yourself of displaying vulnerability and openness, so others feel more comfortable to too!
- Avoid assumptions; there is no ‘look’ for a mental
Each person’s struggle with a certain condition is individual. Anyone around you may be struggling.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) does not necessarily look like rigid handwashing. Hearing voices and having periods of psychosis does not indicate that we’ve got a crazy, dangerous serial killer on our hands. An eating disorder is not the picture of a ‘thin’ girl who never eats.
I personally don’t really like labels; as my psychologist once told me, it’s not very helpful to specify a precise checklist in order to shuffle people into different categories!
Finishing a course of treatment is by no means the same as being ‘recovered’ – the journey of trying to live and manage independently can be very long and tough even if it isn’t evident on the surface.
- Educate yourself on mental illness and the symptoms.
There is a huge range of different conditions; Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Schizophrenia, Binge Eating Disorder… check out a few of the links below for more information! Treat lists of symptoms as a guideline only, not as a checklist!
The Mind and Soul Foundation is a site with amazing resources and information dedicated to support and equip Christians and churches in caring for the mental wellbeing of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Communicate and talk to those in your life who might be struggling with mental health.
Ask for permission to ask them questions!
If they feel comfortable to, ask if they can explain their condition to you, even if they do not feel comfortable with sharing their own specific challenges.
Often it can be difficult for the individual to really know what would be helpful. I know often for myself it was much easier to answer “What do you find unhelpful for me/others to do or say?”
If you notice something concerning or strange about their behaviour, approach them about it gently yet firmly and honestly.
Just as our Father demonstrated his loving, persistent pursuit of his people through Hosea’s story in the Old Testament, we must continue to relentlessly persist in loving others who are struggling. In my experiences, I have tragically come across many whose friends and families have drifted away over the years (and decades), sometimes in frustration, often pushed away in shame by the suffering individual.
In my experience, I know I am tremendously grateful to those who held on to me even when I was internally screaming to give up, push people off and drift away – Those who chose to walk alongside me and love me until I could acknowledge that perhaps loving myself is also a thing (which can still be a challenge now!)
I urge and encourage you not to see someone struggling as a ‘project’; affirm them with words of their identity in Christ and the freedom from shame and condemnation that He pours over us. You are not responsible for ‘fixing’ them. Walk alongside them as they fumble for footsteps themselves, just as our heavenly Father does for us.
Here’s a few final words and verses of encouragement, especially if you yourself struggle with poor mental health.
Isaiah 11: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Isaiah 35: “Waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water…grass shall become reeds and rushes.”
Even when you feel lifeless and like a stump, God has the power to make shoots blossom from a dead tree stump and bear fruit. When you feel you are just walking through a dry, empty desert on painful, scalding hot sand, Jesus has the power to turn the path you walk into bathing in a ‘pool’ of life, health and nourishment.
Our Father is Jehovah Rapha, “The Lord who heals.” – He has so far delivered me healing in unprecedented ways, and although the rest of the journey can still seem long, hard and impossible, I can hold on to the truth and certainty of full restoration in the next life!
A verse I have held on to which has truly resonated with me is from 2 Corinthians 12:9;
‘”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’
Therefore, as I face the rest of the academic year and when frustration at being two years ‘behind’ deceptively looms over me, I will praise God and ‘boast’ in all He has taught me, exposed and opened my eyes to in the midst of my ‘weaknesses’. For He has granted me with a heart that sees the need to ‘bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes’ on those suffering.
Links to more information below!
Esther Hung | 2nd year @ St Cats