Mental health has become a hot topic in recent years, and even more so at the moment when many people may feel alone. It’s estimated that 16 million people in the UK suffer from a mental illness and that every week, 1 in 6 adults experiences anxiety or depression. That means that everywhere we go, we will meet people who are struggling privately with debilitating symptoms. Today is all about opening our eyes, ears and arms to those who need us.
Green: Watch this 3-minute YouTube video by Brene Brown that will help you understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Think about why empathy is so much harder, but so much more helpful, and pray for who you can share empathy with.
Amber: Reach out to someone you know who is suffering mental ill-health. Ask them if there is something practical you can do, or if they would like some company (even digitally). Often, those who are unwell find it hard to express what they need. Always tread carefully so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
Red: Consider running an Intentional Health course in your church.
(Update: Bookmark the link above for future reference. This act is even more important at the moment when many may be struggling with exacerbated anxiety and depression. Let’s make sure we’re checking in with those who are alone or whose mental health may be affected.)
‘Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…’ (Romans 12:2 NLT)
Our health and wellbeing are rarely a zero-sum game. We are either moving towards health, or we are slipping away from it. This applies to our physical, emotional and spiritual health, but is especially the case with our mental wellbeing. And the customs of this world are causing us to slip at an alarming rate.
That’s why I believe the best thing we can do is to be intentional about preventing poor health, building resilience and especially strengthening our own mental health. In Romans, Paul says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, but this might seem extra difficult when we are struggling with our mental health.
When it comes to supporting others with poor mental health, there are things we can keep in mind to better understand their perspective. Remember that they are not choosing for their soul to be downcast. There will be a part of them that desperately wants joy and peace and to be living life in all its fullness, but that part of them is hidden under a cloud of hopelessness.
Understand too that you can’t fix it for them, and appreciate that they feel totally alone and can’t see how anything could change. They feel hopeless, useless and worthless, and each of these thoughts causes them to spiral down deeper into their soul.
So, apart from praying, how else can we help?
- We can love them where they are. Not trying to fix them or help them. Just get down into their hole with them. We need to empathise not sympathise to really connect with someone.
- We can help them think from a different perspective. Someone suffering with poor mental health might use language like ‘he always…’ or ‘she never…’ By reflecting ‘always?’ or ‘never?’ back as a question, we can challenge a perspective in a gentle but impactful way. (Don’t try this without establishing empathy and trust first.) Using ‘often’ and ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘always’ and ‘never’ enables perspective shifts that can transform black and white, or binary thinking, into shades of grey, and hope.
- We can help others hope when they can’t. We often can’t solve other people’s root-cause problems, but we can help practically with symptoms, and we can inspire courage and confidence. We can believe for them and show them we see something in them that they don’t see!
In this way, we can help transform their thinking to spiral up. We can offer hope.
Niky is married to Gareth, and they have two teenage boys. They live in Cornwall and attend the Tubestation church in Polzeath.
Niky was a teacher for ten years before working in health promotion, and she subsequently founded Intentional Health.
Today’s charity is: Intentional Health
Intentional Health is a unique public health intervention delivered by local church volunteers and is aimed at transforming lives and communities.