“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Did you know that 1 in 5 individuals are coping with a mental health condition at any given time? This includes things like depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and many others. That means that almost every one of us knows someone, sits in a pew with someone, loves someone and/or is someone dealing with mental health challenges. As the family of Christ, we pride ourselves in caring for one another” so why is it so hard to talk about mental health?
The stigma around mental health is powerful. When someone has cancer, we ask what we can do to help, we offer support and prayers, we show up with flowers or a casserole. When someone is suffering with depression, we may not know what to say or worry about saying the wrong thing… so we don’t say anything. This can make the depressed person feel even more isolated and down.
One answer is to better understand mental illness and to address some commonly-held misunderstandings. Here are some facts:
- Depression is more than just feeling sad or blue. It is a common, but serious mood disorder that affects how you feel and think. It can affect your sleeping, eating, working, and relationships.
- Depression is a real illness. It is not a sign of a weakness or a character flaw. You can’t “snap out of” clinical depression any more than you can snap out of diabetes or high blood pressure. Most people who experience depression need treatment to get better.
- Causes of mental health conditions include your biology, genes, environment and life events. Mental illness is not caused by sin or an imperfect understanding of God. Telling someone who is depressed that they “should just trust God more,” “love God more,” or “pray more” is not helpful. Chances are they already feel like God is far away no matter what they do.
- Treatment is effective. Over 80% of people with depression get better with therapy and/or medication. Unfortunately, 2/3 of people who need treatment don’t get it.
So, what can we do? If you are worried about someone:
- Share your concern
- Listen non-judgmentally
- Offer to help them find care. Care can be found through their health insurance or a community organization, such as the National Alliance for Mental Illness or Mental Health America.
- Stay connected. Often what’s most important is having someone to walk beside you in the darkness, helping you carry your burden, praying for and with you.
Sharing mental health challenges can take a great deal of courage. If you are struggling yourself, talking with someone you trust can help.
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) recognizes this an important issue. See https://www.pcusa.org/resource/comfort-my-people-policty-statement-serious-mental/ for more information on how churches and individuals can live out Christ’s love by caring for each other.