Wednesday, January 25 is Bell Let’s Talk Day—a campaign to raise awareness and fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. For every text message, wireless or long-distance call made by Bell customers, for every share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, Bell will donate money to programs dedicated to mental health.
It’s an initiative that creates space for an important and necessary conversation. The numbers are alarming—one in five Canadians will experience mental illness at some time in their lives. Close to 10 percent will experience major depression. In any given week, more than 500,000 people will miss work due to mental illness. Every year, nearly 4,000 Canadians die by suicide.
Even more heartbreaking than the statistics are the stories they represent. These are our family members, friends and co-workers who are suffering. We all know someone who has been affected by mental illness; no one’s life has been untouched.
Our culture is doing a much better job at understanding mental health issues and responding with acceptance and compassion. I wish the same were true for the church. There are too many stories of Christians dismissing or belittling the struggles of their sisters and brothers in Christ, too much hostility to therapy and medication.
Perhaps you have heard—or perhaps you have said—the following statements: “Have more faith” or “Pray more.” These suggestions imply that those suffering from anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness are just bad Christians. I hope anyone this misinformed never has to learn how ignorant they are the hard way.
My life has a dark chapter on depression. I cried uncontrollably. Some days I struggled to fall asleep, other days I struggled to wake up. I was in physical pain. I was in mental and emotional turmoil. I felt sad, mad, afraid, ashamed and embarrassed. I felt nothing. I couldn’t eat and then I would overeat. I couldn’t focus and settle to read. I was not myself; it took the absolute good out of me.
I spent several days in the hospital and was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. I was prescribed medication and received intense counselling.
Today, I’m much better, more myself. I’ve experienced a lot of healing over the past few years. What helped me get here? Medication, professional counselling, family and friends, God. Think of these four elements as the legs of a table. If your mental and emotional well-being is resting on a table, it’s better to have four strong legs holding it up, rather than one, two or three.
There are countless articles, books and resources, both Christian and non-Christian, to help those suffering from mental illness, and those who love them. Being informed is a good place to start. Another way to help is to simply listen.
In Scripture, many passages, from both the Old and New Testaments, offer insight or encouragement about mental health. One that means a lot to me and helps me empathize with others struggling with mental illness is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
That’s what I needed, and continue to need, to hear. That’s what thousands of children, women and men suffering from depression or other mental health issues need, too.
Captain Mark Braye is the corps officer at Sarnia Community Church, Ont.