Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Written by Adam Parrett
The other day when Andy spoke to us in our Sunday morning meeting he opened up the topic of mental health (watch here https://youtu.be/jHtOQn0iTaM) which caused some great discussions in the chat after the Sunday meeting and one which has probably got you thinking.
For me this is a really important topic as mental health affects more people then we often realise. In fact, I am one of the people that it affects.
Since the age of 16 I have struggled with panic attacks and anxiety. I remember it well as I was doing my GCSE exams at the time and I didn't make it into my first exam as my breathing was heavy, I was a sweaty mess and it felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. In the end I managed to do most of my GCSE's but it certainly wasn't easy.
Over the years I have had many ups and downs, sometimes even going years with no problems but every so often it used to rear its ugly head and if you were to ask Sarah, she would tell you that it has occasionally turned me into a blubbering mess. Maybe not the image you expected of me.
I just wanted to right today to share some of the things that I have learnt down the years that might help you if either you are struggling or you know someone that is.
Mental Health is Real
One of the things that I have noticed as I have both struggled and helped people is that sometimes you will come across people who almost don't believe in mental health.
I think that this is getting less and less nowadays as mental health is becoming more widely talked about and accepted but I still feel that we have some way to go as we can all fall into the trap of, well I have never had it so it can't be real.
When we have people in our lives that struggle with some form of mental health, let's meet them where there are at and act like Jesus did with the crowds that followed them. He showed compassion. When we start doing this we will start to learn what it really is to support someone with mental health.
It's OK to not be OK
Something else that I have discovered is the fact that some people think that if you are a Christian all mental health problems magically disappear.
Let me reassure those of you that struggle with mental health that this is not the case at all.
We live in a fallen world as we read right back in Genesis, and with that came death and disease.
This means that we all have struggles but some more than others and some more obvious than others.
Often when I tell people that I have struggled with panic attacks and anxiety for years they are shocked as I come across very confident and easy going. Let me tell you that on the inside I am often a broken mess.
The way I have managed to live down the years (although it has often been far from easy), is by coming to the realisation that God can heal me of this but if He doesn't then I am still going to live for Him and do the things he asks of me.
Will this always be easy? No.
Will it push me to my very limits? Sometimes.
But I also know that in Jesus, His grace is sufficient for me and that through my weakness I see His strength working in my life and that one day there will be no more pain and suffering and all of this will be over!
We Don't Always Need Fixing
Whilst I believe you can get through mental illnesses and you can be free of them it doesn't always mean that we need fixing and that you have the answers.
Let me explain what I mean.
Do you know anyone that thinks they know everything? Well these kind of people are not always helpful if you struggle with mental health. Sometimes we don't need to be told what we need to do or who we should go and talk too. Sometimes all we need is a shoulder to cry on, a hug, or a listening ear.
Whilst it can be frustrating as you want the best for the person struggling, the answer is sometimes just to be there.
Down the years one of my biggest struggles has been going on car journeys as there is that feeling of being trapped or not being in control. One of the things that I have found most helpful is Sarah, my wife, just gently stroking the back of my neck as I have found that really soothing. When I am really struggling, I don't want her telling me what to do, I just want to know that she is there.
The other thing that I have personally found helpful at this time is to try and replace the lies in my head with the truth of God. I often listen to certain worship songs (sometimes on repeat for 30 mins (my family love this)) or read or recite certain scripture that has been helpful to me.
I have also had various counselling down the years (yes shocking isn't it that I am not just praying) and this has helped me to have a greater understanding of my body and its feelings. I truly believe that God has gifted some people to help them understand themselves by talking about their feelings.
So if like me, you struggle or know someone that struggles, please be assured that you are not alone. You are not alone in the world or in the church.
I am so glad that Andy opened up this subject and there is so much more that I could say here but I will leave that for another day.
My hope and prayer is that the church would be such an open and welcoming place that we would see people who struggle in many different areas come and meet with Jesus the Great Physician and be able to talk freely and get support for where they are at.