A Frightening Feeling
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, in a typical year roughly 26 percent of the population will be affected by substance abuse or “a mental illness that is severe, moderate, or mild.” Put differently, if you are in a group of four people right now, chances are one of you will struggle with this. When you hear the words mental illness, I’m sure different things come to mind. And it’s quite possible – based on experiences – that ten people could view mental illness through ten different lenses. The UCC Mental Health Network describes mental illness as “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are disorders of the brain. These illnesses are medical conditions that result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life when left untreated.”
May 16th is Mental Health Sunday in the UCC. Though it’s certainly important to downplay the stigma of mental illnesses every day, a Sunday to specifically recognize the importance of mental health is a good start. I think of the devastating impact COVID-19 had, and continues to have, on our world. From a mental and emotional health standpoint, that is (not to mention the 3.3 million lives lost worldwide). You don’t need me to tell you that words like “quarantine,” “isolation,” and “distancing” were never meant to be part of our everyday vocabulary. Those words, while necessary at times, wreak havoc on one’s emotional well-being.
COVID or no COVID, people struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness, panic attacks, anger, and much more every day. It’s tempting, particularly for a male, to conceal his feelings and “tough it out.” It’s also tempting for a well-meaning preacher to issue a religious bromide such as, “Anxiety shows that we are too close to the world and too far from God” or “Your fear, anxiety, or depression is ungodly.” I don’t buy either of those for a second. Sometimes even the most devout Christian can find himself or herself in a black hole of depression, without an oar to help them navigate to safety. Does there need to be a reason? No. Mental illness – regardless of the severity – does not discriminate. It can attack anyone.
The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network offers some good resources to those looking to help friends or family who are struggling. Some simple tips include:
- Be a friend. Provide companionship, help with transportation, listen without judgement, and offer a prayer.
- Share your story. Nothing is as powerful as our own testimony. Even if we’ve never personally dealt with these obstacles, I’m sure we know someone who does. How have they handled their situation?
- Watch your language. Words matter. Avoid words like “crazy,” “nuts,” “abnormal,” or “psychotic.” Someone experiencing a mental health crisis is not a bad person, nor are they crazy or insane.
- Be a “StigmaBuster.”To the third point, there still exists a stigma surrounding mental illness. Help your friend, and others, understand that it’s a sickness. Much in the same way diabetes or the flu is a sickness.
- Learn the facts.As with all aspects of life, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves. Some websites to check out are https://www.nami.org/Home, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/, and https://www.samhsa.gov/.
We’re all in this together, are we not? No one likes to go through a mental or emotional crisis, but it is a part of life for some. And if you are feeling overwhelmed with all that’s happened (socially, politically, nationally) over the past 15 months, trust me when I tell you that are not alone.
In Jesus’ Name,