The Mental Health Journey is Not a Solo One
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around one in nine adults experience high or very high levels of psychological distress in Australia with long-term mental health conditions affecting around 4.0 million people across the country.
With these statistics, it’s easy to understand that we are truly facing a battle for the health of the mind.
The Battle is for The Mind
Scripture speaks about the reality of this battle, and in Romans 12 we are encouraged to renew our minds daily, immersing ourselves in the word of God and strengthening ourselves through his word.
And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].
ROMANS 12:2 AMP
God wants us to understand the importance of the mind and why it’s vital that we work toward a fully renewed mind. So even if you do not have a mental illness, it’s worth considering that just like our physical health and wellness, we all have a mental wellness journey. It just looks different for each person.
Time to Take Stock
Taking the time to reflect on the past, take stock of the present and consider the future is a valuable way to use your time. Many mental health issues become more serious because of a lack of care and support. The longer the person goes without support, the more complex the illness can potentially become.
To get started, it’s important to understand the value of being mindful of your current state of health and wellbeing. You may already be aware of a preexisting mental illness battle but if not, just start by asking yourself if you are (or think you are) experiencing psychological distress. This can look like feeling really emotional, having trouble concentrating (more than usual) long periods of being awake at night, struggling with getting along with family and friends, and other problems like these. Sane Australia has a great checklist that you can read to help you get a good grip on what is considered psychological distress.
Regardless of what part of the journey you are on, or your loved one is on, there are three things I want you to know:
- There is help and you are not alone.
- Getting help does not mean you’ve failed.
- God does not see you any differently than he did before you or your loved one had a mental health problem.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to take stock of how you are managing life, regulating your emotions during difficult times and how you feel your personal relationships are going. If you find that your answers are not quite what you’d like them to be then it’s not a bad idea to hook up with a professional and have a chat.
To start with I recommend that you ask yourself some simple questions. Think about how you’ve been feeling over the past few weeks as many mental health issues can be better analysed over a shorter period of time.
- How would you describe your general mood over the past two to four weeks?
- How would you describe your capacity to relate to others over the past two to four weeks?
- How would you rate your emotional coping skills in general right now?
- Are you feeling consciously concerned about your mental health?
Thoughts on paper are much easier to control
Putting your thoughts on paper has some powerful flow on affects for the mind. You can see your worries and fears on paper bringing these concerns into perspective. This perspective can help you see if what you are worrying about is worth getting help over. It’s quite amazing that when we physically see our thoughts on paper, we can gain a greater comprehension of what we are dealing with and can help us put a few things ‘to bed’ and work on the things we know we can manage.
But sometimes this isn’t enough. You may find that by writing these things down there are a few that require a bit of help from a trusted listener. By writing down your reflections you can determine if you feel you need professional help or just need to have a good old chin wag with a good close friend or family member.
Being able to discuss our worries and fears with someone we trust provides a sounding board where the other person can give us some much needed advice and perspective.
If you then find that writing things down and chatting with a trusted friend has helped but the problems are still present, it’s probably time to chat with your GP. This is the first point of call. They can then refer you to a psychologist and also help you over the long term to get any other extended help you may need.
There are many wonderful psychologists and psychiatrists around who are very comfortable with discussing mental health from a Christian perspective, even if they themselves do not share your faith. And equally there are plenty of professionals in mental health care who are Christians who genuinely grasp the intricacies of faith and mental illness, healing and the struggles faced in the Christian community on these complex topics.
Does asking for help mean I have lost my faith?
I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to share, especially if you have some doubts yourself about how faith intersects with the reality of a mental illness. It can be equally distressing if the people around you do not or are unwilling to consider mental illness as an illness.
Add to that the complexity of prayer and healing, believing that God wants to heal us and the many varied opinions about mental illness from every denomination, it’s no wonder so many Christians find it difficult to share and reveal their fragility.
There are plenty of people on both sides of this debate, both Christian and not, and as far as where Christian Mental Wellness Australia stands on the matter, it’s more complex than I think we can put into one category or the other. Suffice to say that this battle is an individual one and one that we must face corporately and in a unified manner.
Seeking help does not mean you have failed God or disobeyed Him.
When we keep our concerns internalised no one knows how much we need help. I have had so many friends and aquaintances share with me their struggle to share about their situation due to a fear of ridicule, condemnation or being ‘put on the shelf’ because we are ‘broken’.
I can’t tell you how much this saddens me. I have been here, so if you are feeling this way, may I encourage you – you are definitely not alone. I too have been ridiculed, condemned, forgotten about, put aside, sat down from position and told I have insufficient faith. I’ve even been told that my illness is due to sin.
I totally get it.
So this is my advice to you right now, regardless of who is around you and what they may or may not be saying or doing to support you: If you feel concerned for your mental health, you have every right to seek help. The opinions of others only matters if you are genuinely seeking their advice on your health. And seeking assistance does not in any way mean that you have lost your faith in God to help you through.
In fact if anything, it means you understand the instruction in the Word about us leaning on one another for support, on being one body and sharing the burden when things are hard and on seeing how God uses people who are unified all through scripture. You are actually obeying God’s own instructions when you share your burdens and let others help!
Steps to take toward a recovered life.
If you’re totally new to the concept of managing your mental health, it can be very overwhelming. There are loads of opinions and finding the ‘right’ people to help you can feel daunting and frightening.
The truth is that not everyone understands how frightening it can be to feel like you’re not coping. They may not have a framework for being compassionate about it. So when you decide it’s time to seek help, share with discretion and only take on board the opinions of those you feel have your best interests at heart.
To get started, try doing these things first:
Everything should begin and end with prayer. God encourages us to come to him, weary and broken, frightened and overwhelmed and give him our burdens. He is here to heal us and enable us in all our struggles and this includes those in need of mental health healing. We can rest assured that he is with us on the journey and will guide us to the right people, therapies and medications as they are needed.
Acknowledge that you’re struggling.
This is an internal battle, and you are the first and last point of call on how well you move forward. Getting help for your mental health starts with saying I need help.
Accept that you need help.
Unfortunately there are so many people who will acknowledge that they are unwell but then convince themselves that they can manage their journey on their own. This is a very dangerous mindset to have and can lead to many more complex problems down the line. Instead, reach out and take the help of those trained in doing so. It may just save your life and will definitely encourage you with the support and wisdom they can provide.
Talk to someone you trust.
The mental health journey can be very difficult to navigate and having someone to stand with you, talk to mental health professionals on your behalf (if need be) and be a confidant can really make things so much easier. It also helps to have one person like this because they can help you navigate in times when you find yourself coping less than normal.
If you can just start with these four things you will be on your way to recovery. It doesn’t matter which mental illness you are diagnosed with, or even that you are diagnosed: it matters that you establish what’s going on and work out a plan for getting better.
And never forget that it is in your best interests to keep God central to all of your recovery journey. He knows you inside out (read Psalm 139!) and knows exactly what you need to live a life full of his presence and fully healed.
But this does not negate the value of integrating help from people who spend their lives helping us – they have wonderful tools, strategies and experience that we can draw from too and I personally belief and can testify to the fact that without these people in my life, I did not manage well at all. Now that I have a balanced integration of services, advice, medication and above all, my trust in God, I am well on my way to a life free from the strains and agonies I lived with before.
Putting God first in all things, especially our mental health, gives us a head start on getting better too. I should know. I’ve tried it without him and with him and the outcomes for the latter outshine the former.
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I will be discussing why we should bother to try and change or to get better from mental illness.