Jenny Arnold writes a third article this time focussing on Mental Health:
Mental Health Awareness Week was recently held in the UK from 18 – 24 May and the Mental Health Foundation suggested that we think about the word ‘kind,’ specifically during that week.
It probably was missed by most people because of the impact of Coved 19 and the changes isolation and lock down brought to those unused to such hardships. But mental illness is perhaps something we rarely think of until it impacts ourselves or a family member, and so, I would like to bring mental wellbeing into the arena when considering those for whom isolation is not just an inconvenience for a while.
Kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and mental ill health necessitates an abundance of this fruit.
The Foundation estimates that 1 in 4 of us will, at some point in our lives, suffer with a period of poor mental health such as depression, anxiety or stress. They further estimate that 1 in 8 of us will experience a period of psychosis.
Mental health is, of course, something that we all have. For most, our mental health is robust and we don’t pay much attention to it, for others it may at times be shaky but manageable. For others of us, however, it may be completely unmanageable and require a period of hospitalisation and medication in the same way that physical illness sometimes requires the same.
Mental Ill Health in the Bible
The Bible gives us a few glimpses into the mental health of some of its most well known characters.
We can see that Elijah the Prophet appeared to suffer a period of depression and exhaustion following his flight from Jezebel (1 Kings 19), but Almighty God ministered to him with food and water and rest.
Most Biblical historians believe that the descriptions of King Saul’s behaviour and mood in the Book of Kings points to severe depression, paranoia or even possible post traumatic stress disorder. The ancient world at this time saw much violence in warfare and historians have suggested that PTSD may have been evident amongst its people.
King Nebuchadnezzar on the other hand became completely insane and ‘ate grass like an ox’ (Book of Daniel).
In the Book of Psalms King David frequently expresses periods of low, mood, tearfulness, anxiety and sleeplessness followed by periods of elation which may suggest a tendency towards bi-polar syndrome.
As I look back over my lifetime, I can see that my own mental health has at best been rather shaky and at worst has led to 2 serious breakdowns. Some two and a half years ago, I was suddenly plunged into a terrifying Generalised Anxiety Disorder and multiple panic attacks when I was faced with the knowledge that I was now not only blind but living alone with little support, my son resident on the other side of the world.
I was eventually diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder after my psychiatrist took a full history of my mental health over many years and including the clinical breakdown I went through following the birth of my son Jonathan.
The way in which my mental health impacted my whole life, including relationships, education, career and motherhood, left me broken – but my testimony of salvation, redemption and restoration is for another time.
A Plea for Better Understanding
Whilst efforts have been made in recent years to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, and whilst huge strides have been made in this area, it is nonetheless horrendously isolating – not the least because a breakdown in your mental wellbeing often causes the sufferer to behave in ways and say things which don’t correspond with ‘accepted ‘social norms. Inability to understand such behaviours often results in society shunning and isolating such sufferers, or even reducing them to figures of fun.
It is difficult for those who have never experienced serious mental health issues to work out what is going on and may use phrases such as, ‘go for a nice walk and snap out of it,’ or similar.
It is particularly difficult for Christians, as historically, the Church has tended to view mental illness as having a more spiritual orientation than physical illness. Whilst demonic influences may be present in some instances, the majority of mental ill health is now viewed with the same parity as any physical sickness. Just as we accept that medical intervention and possible hospitalisation is needed on a physical level – then it is also true for mental illness which may have a chemical and physiological cause rather than a demonic attribution.
Hope for the Future
I referred to kindness at the start of this article and I come back to that now. Kindness and understanding, as well as patience and tolerance, can all help to create an atmosphere of acceptance towards sufferers. But possibly one of the hardest things that a sufferer does for him or herself is to show kindness, patience and tolerance towards oneself. Just as with treatment for physical illness requires time for healing – then so too does illness associated with mental health sickness.
Lord Jesus Christ
Who for love of our souls
Entered the deep darkness of the Cross
We pray that Your love may surround
All who live in the darkness
Of great mental distress
And who find it difficult to pray for themselves
May they know that darkness and light
Are both alike to You
And You have promised
Never to fail them or forsake them
We ask this for Your Name’s Sake. Amen
Contemporary Parish Prayers 1972