Mental health issues have been in the news a lot over the past few months. There is a desperation for them to be taken seriously and to rid them of the overwhelming stigma. A couple of weeks ago I was really moved by a service at my local church about living with grief, anxiety, and depression, and it occurred to me that, as society begins to accept these as norms, so should our churches.
I do believe that a lot of Christians recognise how depression can affect a person, however I don’t think, as a group, we know how to talk about it. So many people in our congregations are suffering in silence, afraid to come forward, to ask for help. When courage arises and someone does speak out of their pain, we pray, and we move on. We need to learn how to help these people, prayer is good, but we also need to do God’s work in answering prayer, providing long term support and encouraging them to talk to someone professional.
When we learn someone has depression the natural reaction is to back away, we don’t like to encourage negativity in our own lives but what if, instead, we welcomed each person into our hearts. What if we befriend each other, sat with one another; depression doesn’t necessarily need an answer, or a solution, it just needs someone to understand, to be there. I do worry that we’ve succeeded so much in getting it recognised as an illness, that we might have taken it too far. It’s now become a disease we’re scared of; but what if I told you it was normal, that one in three people experience it at some point in their lifetime. We shouldn’t be afraid of it, terror gives it more power, instead we should accept it, acknowledge it and learn to understand it. The longer we deny it, the harder it is to overcome; if we continue to push it back then we also continue to push back the chance for a better life. Our first step at combating this is to raise awareness. A lot of our fear stems from the fear of the unknown, if we have the knowledge then the terror can be pushed aside.
There’s a great video that explains it called ‘I had a big black dog, his name was depression’. It talks about how some days it stays at bay, but others it looms so big we can’t escape from its shadow. I first saw this video a few years ago, and I’ve never seen a better analogy, it humanises the whole experience, taking away some of the fear surrounding a diagnosis.
In Psalm 40 it says ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth. a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.’ As Christians we have the ability to stand by those suffering as our strength comes from God, and we can feed this into our actions. Through him we have the ability to guide others through the darkness, and even help ourselves.
When depression and anxiety hit it can sometimes be difficult just to get out of bed, small tasks of the day become nigh impossible and it’s hard to see the light in the darkness. However, there is always hope, and even the smallest changes can have the biggest impacts. We’ve compiled a small list of tips that can help fight the initial stages of depression and anxiety.
Stay social – it’s one of the hardest things to do when you’re in this kind of pain but in the long term it can be one of the best tools to get through to other side.
Exercise – don’t worry, you don’t have to join a gym or anything, but just a small burst of exercise will release endorphins – a 20 minute walk will do
Face your fears – try not to avoid circumstances that make you uncomfortable or anxious, it will just increase the fear and make it harder in the long run
Don’t drink alcohol – Sometimes it’s very tempting to have a drink when feeling down, but alcohol serves as ‘downer’ and will just make you feel worse
Treat yourself – when you’re having a bad day make sure you do something nice for yourself, have a relaxing bath, watch your favourite film, listen to a good song, make a cup of tea; these things may sounds small but they can make the biggest difference.
Most importantly, talk to someone – a friend, a gp/counsellor, a family member; just make sure it’s someone you feel safe with. someone you can trust
To provide support we can encourage and friends and family in these actions, we can listen to them, be the shoulder to cry on, and most importantly we can let them know that they are loved unconditionally. If we seek our strength from God then we will be sustained.