According to official mental health statistics;
– One in four people experience mental health issues every year
– 676 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide
– One in six working adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health
– Mental illness is the largest single source of burden of disease in the UK
-In the US, 46.4 % of adults experience mental illness during their lifetime
– In Africa, the proportion of people with mental illness who don’t get treatment ranges from 75% in South Africa to more than 90% in Ethiopia and Nigeria
Mental illness is one of the biggest epidemics of our age. And what makes it so dangerous is that it is often impossible to identify from the outside; too many suffering in silence as a result of a fear of being stigmatised.
If one in four are suffering from mental illness, what on earth makes us think Christians are somehow exempt?
The sad reality is that a significant percentage of church congregations worldwide are suffering from mental illness in some shape or form.
Whilst chatting with me about a previous struggle with depression, a fellow Christian agonised that the most frustrating part of it was the mindset of other church members; that all he needed to do was read his bible more and pray it out.
“They kept telling me I was a child of God and that all I needed to do was believe and pray. It was so discouraging. In-fact they made me feel ten times worse. So much so that I stopped discussing it with them. I felt like some-kind-of failed lesser Christian or something. It was horrible.”
What he really needed was for someone to listen; not for the sake of pity but to understand, empathise, relate, and objectively help him break down those seemingly impenetrable walls of negative thoughts.
I experienced something similar earlier this year. As my mind was more and more besieged with negative thoughts, I struggled to see anything in a positive light. To make matters worse I dared not talk to anyone about it for fear of being perceived as weak or some-kind-of failure. And the longer I kept my thoughts to myself, the worse I felt. To cut a long story short, when I eventually opened-up to close friends and family, not only was it a huge relief, but they were able to help me tear down those debilitating thoughts, as though scales were falling from my eyes; enabling me to recognise the many positives.
Why do we Christians refuse to attack this huge problem pragmatically?
Mental illness isn’t something we can simply pray away. There should be weekly discussion groups for people to openly air their fears, worries, and anxieties, without fear of being judged.
Too many individuals in thousands of congregations are suffering in silence. Let’s focus less on strategies for getting bums on seats and much more on helping congregations heal.
As someone said to me recently, “It isn’t even practical! What’s the point of getting more people to come to church if most of the congregation are unwell?? Surely, it’s better to first-of-all address the needs of the congregation, so that they can be more effective witnesses for Christ!?”
She does have a point.
David struggled with depression, as did Elijah; two of God’s most impactful servants. Read the book of Ecclesiastes and you very quickly realise that despite the abundance of wealth and fame, King Solomon also struggled with depression.
Mental illness ensnares people of all walks of life – rich or poor, married or unmarried, faith or non-faith, single or not, successful or unsuccessful, young or old; regardless of profession, position, or background.
In truth, I avoided writing this article for several weeks, for fear of what some might think or say. But, every time I attempted to pen another message, I heard the same thing – “This is not what I want you to write about. I want you to write about mental illness. There are too many suffering in silence.”
However, rather than get on with it, I kept procrastinating; until last week, when it became abundantly clear he wouldn’t give me another message until I relayed this one.
As I commenced my research, I asked, “Who is this for Lord? And what’s your message to them?”
“Too many of my children are suffering in silence. And I’m not just talking about those in church. This message is for anyone, Christian or otherwise who is struggling with anxiety, worry, or depression. I want my house to be a place wherein people can talk openly about their challenges and struggles without fear of being judged or frowned upon. The back biting, pretense, perception of perfection, and judgmental attitude towards others must stop. My house is not a place to gather influence and power, but one for people to feel safe and loved, no matter their background or current situation.”
Our God is Love. He feels our pain and shares in our struggles. It is not his desire for you to struggle in silence. Neither is he so cold and formulaic that he expects you to overcome your challenges by simply praying and reading your bible more.
He understands the need for us to have open relationships with one another, and it is through such that we’re able to help each other heal.
I’m not a pastor, and I have no influence or power. I can only hope and pray this message touches the hearts of some influential church members, and encourages them to address some of the urgent mental health needs of their congregation in more practical ways.
Finally, if you’re struggling with mental illness, you are not alone, and there is no stigma. You’re simply one of 676 million people that need a little help navigating this insane roller-coaster we call life.
Please reach out to a close and trusted friend or relative today.