We’ve had a bit of a focus recently on mental health: it has been amazing to share some experiences from our lovely friends, and to be a part of this ongoing and growing conversation around mental health. As we said in our first post on the topic, mental health – literally the health of the mind – is something that we have been talking about a lot more in recent years, and this discussion is so important: it is estimated that 16 million people in the UK are currently diagnosed with a mental illness, and suicide is the biggest cause of death of young people aged 20-35 in this country. This is a topic in which silence can not and will not bring about change: there are strong links between mental health and loneliness and isolation, and an embarrassment around talking about the subject is not going to change anything. Recently, we have heard some brilliant stories from friends: Tara talked about coping with what you cannot control; and Eleanor shared her experience of Anorexia: I Am a Recovering Anorexic, and I Love Jesus.
Both Tara and Eleanor shared about how they processed their mental health difficulties, while also walking in faith; and this was an element of the discussion that I felt it was particularly important to talk about. Too often, we can put our “church face” on, and sail over talking about how we actually are; and yet as Christians, we are experiencing life and the world, and all that is thrown at us, in just as real a way. While we can feel shame around not being OK, the face-value, slightly false way that we deal with these things in church can be unhelpful, and keep us in that place.
So let’s talk about it: what practical things do you do, as a Christian, to support your mental health, while walking in faith?
I asked the Facebook hive-mind, and some of our friends from church the same question. Here are some of the things that they had to say:
“Be honest. If someone asks you how you are, tell the truth, instead of wearing the Christian facade of “I’m fine, because I’m a child of God””
Lots of our friends came back with their experience of how physical exercise and getting outside has been a massive help. One said that cycling was a big help for them: exercise and beauty; another said that they go for a long walk and take some photos; and a few friends talked about how running was their way of getting some head space. One friend said this: “I find walking in natural spaces really peaceful and that usually leads to prayer and thanksgiving – basically chatting to God – walking in big landscapes, under big skies puts life back into perspective and ticks the exercise box too.”
Other friends talked about how important it is to acknowledge and recognize the way that you are feeling: “I go out side and take a deep breath, then go inside and lay with my eyes closed and just embrace God’s presence and remind myself he’s still there in the good and bad”. We also spoke about how alongside the other things, it was so important to pray, and cry when you need to, giving those feelings to God.
Another friend spoke about how in every season, shutting off from Christian friends and from church was not the answer: I make sure that as hard as it can be, I continue going to church. I’ll be open and vulnerable with my other Christian friends who support me and pray for me. I will seek healing from God because unlike some people even God knows that mental health should be given the same level of care as physical health; this is also why I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that we should “leave our baggage at the door” when going to church. God wants us to bring our problems, pain and suffering to him”.
As I read some of the stories and ideas that my friends sent through, one of the things that hit me was that we all go through things; this is all a part of life. Church is a place where people can feel like they stick out if life has got a bit on top of them – but I’m pretty sure this is upside-down – Jesus spent time around the people who needed Him most. This question, which I popped up on Facebook, sparked a conversation with my friends from all kinds of faith backgrounds and cultures, but they all had this in common: they all had experiences of dealing with mental health difficulties, and they were all up for talking about it; the way that we feel can tell us the complete opposite, but the Church is a place where we can go and find love, acceptance and hope – the things that we can often feel like we are missing.
We are going to continue this discussion in the coming weeks, but I would love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment or drop us a DM: as a Christian, what practical things do you do, while walking in faith?