Monthly Archives: February 2017

Responding to Self-Harm #TakeCare

It’s seen as something attention seeking teenagers do.

It’s seen as a preserve of the ‘mentally ill’.

It’s seen as a passing phase, perhaps as ‘nothing serious’.

And yet.

It’s the leading cause of death for  adults between 20 and 24 according to a recent Lancet Commission report.

Self-harm is killing people.

And it’s important to note here, that these are not people who were necessarily trying to take their own lives.

Self-harm is not suicide.

Self-harm is a coping mechanism, a way to manage unspeakable pain in a tangible way.

People at the very beginning of adulthood are dying as they try to navigate their lives.

We can suggest countless reasons why young people in their twenties are self-harming; the pressures of debt, lack of affordable places to live, dissatisfaction, not to mention rising rates of mental illness.

Self-harm doesn’t stop as soon as people turn twenty, but all too often the sources of support seem to. From living amongst friends in university houses with student support and student pastors available to talk to, entering the workplace with a boss and navigating the career ladder can feel incredibly isolating.

How can we even begin to respond?

There is no easy answer, no one size fits all response which will remind  people that their lives are valuable and that they are valuable. Medication and mental health service input might be required, better systems of support and learning coping mechanisms are vital   but more than that; space, community and vulnerability are needed.

Space before God to understand who they are without the labels of ‘young person’ or ‘student’. Communities in which they can work out life in a safe place, and vulnerability to learn that no one is perfect, no one is sorted.

Recovery, of any kind cannot be done in isolation.

We cannot let a generation of struggling young people turn into adults who can see no solace outside of scars.

We need communities to remind us that all solace comes from a God who, through His Son was prepared to bare His scars.

Beyond The Scales – Guest Blog by Emma Scrivener #TakeCare

Eating disorders are about more than just weight. They’re about control, perfectionism, boundaries, families and emotions. They represent a way of thinking and relating, both to yourself and to others. Recovery therefore, isn’t just a matter of BMI. It means challenging long-held beliefs – e.g; that life can be seen in terms of black and white. That emotions are bad and sharing them makes you a ‘burden’. That control means safety.

Anorexics for example, are often far more focused on making plans, getting things right and getting things perfect, than other people. They find it difficult to live in the moment or let go of mistakes. They can quickly become obsessive and value routine and familiarity. They often have very little sense of self and look to others for affirmation and identity. In some cases their eating disorder is what gives them identity – they want to be free of it, but are terrified of or unable to imagine who they are without it.

I was first diagnosed with anorexia when I was about 13 and struggled with it for the next four or five years. Although by 18 I’d recovered physically, I found that psychologically I was at the same stage as I’d been when the disorder began. My emotional development had been frozen.

For me, anorexia worked by sublimating other fears into the desire to be thin. But instead of dealing with those fears, it just smothered them temporarily. As my eating habits normalised, they resurfaced. Getting better meant facing them and covering the emotional ground I’d lost. That was just as scary as gaining weight – but much more difficult to explain. I looked better – and older – on the outside. But internally, the emotional battle was just beginning.

From the outside, though, what was everyone thinking? Phew! I’m so glad all those difficult struggles are over. The scales are right, everything’s fixed.

Can you see a problem here?

 

Emma Scrivener was born in Belfast, but now lives with her husband and daughter in the south east of England. She suffered from life-threatening anorexia, both as a child and as an adult. She now writes and speaks about her experiences and how the grace of Christ speaks in the darkest places. Emma blogs at emmascrivener.net and her book, ‘A New Name’ is published by IVP.

Introducing #TakeCare

Monday marks the beginning of Eating Disorder Awareness Week and includes National Self-Harm Awareness on Wednesday. To mark this we are launching our #TakeCare campaign to encourage people to offer acts of care both for themselves and others.

In order to do this we want people to Tweet, Facebook and Instagram ideas about how they are taking care of themselves and those around them. Example ideas could be:

  • accompany someone for a walk in the sunshine
  • offer to help them with housework
  • get a manicure with a friend
  • take children to the park to give a parent a break
  • pay for someone to spend the day doing something they love,
  • send your pet to someone who loves animals for a day
  • lend out your favourite book

So often when someone is struggling with self-harm or an eating disorder, self-care can feel impossible in contrast to the pull of hurting oneself.

We want to encourage small ways in which people struggling can begin to take care of themselves; whether it be getting out in the sunshine or reading a book they love – but we also want to encourage everyone to reach out to those they know are struggling and show them they care.

We’d love to hear how you’re getting involved so use the hashtag #TakeCare and tag @ThinkTwiceInfo!

 

Family Stories – Guest Blog

*warning – includes references to suicide and abuse.*

My Grandma grew up on a farm in Italy, between the world wars.  During her teens, she looked after chickens and her younger siblings, she saw the British Army arrive, German artillery (embedded in nearby mountains) obliterated her pregnant cousin with a shell.  Later, she arrived in the UK with hardly any English, married my granddad and became a housewife in Kent.

Grandma is an incredibly brave woman, but I knew little of this until recently.  My consistently present, usually hilarious grandma was actually a mystery, which annoys me because I believe that people’s stories are worth hearing.  It’s in the telling of my own story that I’ve really seen redemption in action.

My early memories of Grandma revolve around Christmas and the friendly smell of her hugs.  But her daughter, my mum, died before Grandma could strictly be considered old and before my mum had left her twenties, so I also remember Grandma as an old lady in panic.

Bereaved families often find themselves struggling to fight off chaos.  My dad’s faith in Jesus kept my brother, my sister and I rooted in the hope of God’s care, within our church family.  I know that Grandma found the same in her church.

I don’t know how much my grandma understands about my story through the following years of my life.  I know that she’ll have been pleased to see me growing in relationship with God and being baptised, but I’m not sure what she knows about the struggles of a bereaved child or what she feels about my dad’s remarriage.

I know that Grandma didn’t know that I was being abused by a distant family member for years following.  My depression and experience of the world as a dangerous place led me deeper into the safety of relationship with God, but also further into isolation from the people around me.  I’m not sure what Grandma thought when she saw all the joy fall away from me.

By the age of eleven, I knew that the world was a scary place.  Life was a long list of traumatic situations.  But in the middle of my isolation, Jesus remained consistently present.

One Monday morning, I found myself praying in a bathroom before school.  Suicide felt like the only way that I could escape isolation, so I turned this into a prayer for escape.

Then I drank a dose of bleach and waited.

The whole experience was disappointing.  I belched.  My brother hammered on the door, annoyed at the delay.

I’m not sure what was going on in my stomach, but life changed quickly.  My school seemed to see that something was wrong and sent me off to a new school, with excellent, new friendships.  I spoke about abuse with my brother and sister, creating Famous Five-style camaraderie (if the Famous Five were a group of three who chased baddies).  My dad eventually got involved, making us feel safer.

I shouldn’t paint this as ‘happily ever after…’.  I continued to struggle throughout my teens and depression continued to be normal for me.  In my late teens, I found myself forgiving characters from my own story and in friendships where I could discuss all this.  I spent lots of time in therapy during my twenties trying to undo the knot of my own story – aided by medication, as well as friends and my wife.

Finally, what I thought I could only give myself in the form of death on a Monday morning toilet seat was offered to me far more miraculously.  Jesus, who had made Himself known to me so intimately, allowed me to know Him through relationships with the people around me.  These opportunities to have my story heard have allowed me to see redemption for what it is: not a pie-in-the-sky hope that this will all end, but an opportunity to love God in relationship with people around me.

I’m still not sure what Grandma knows about my story.  I wonder what she’s perceived in all of this – what parts of my story she’s been able to read from the margins.  I wonder if it’s time for me to schedule some regular story-telling sessions for Grandma and I.

This post was written by Jon Piper. Jon has spent most of his career hanging around in youth, community and social work but recently finished an MA in Integrative Theology with London School of Theology. He’s now helping to run a church in Hampshire.

Children’s Mental Health Week 2017

 

Another week, another round of stories about the state of mental health care in Britain – this time focussing on the children.

To mark Children’s Mental Health Week there have been countless stories and features highlighting the issues; children sent miles from home to receive vital mental health treatment, rising numbers of diagnosis, services stretched to breaking point, new Childlike statistics citing a 36% rise in the number of young people calling about mental health issues, with 1 in 6 of all Childline counselling sessions were focused on these mental health issues.

It’s grim reading.

And yet I have to believe there is hope.

The Church of England alone see over 100,000 children regularly on a Sunday – not including those we come into contact with through children’s groups and activities and we have a chance to come alongside them – not as cures, but as companions, showing them they are loved and pointing them to the God who became man to welcome the children to Him.

We might not be able to solve the problem of mental illness but we can provide community and elements of shalom to struggling children and their families.

Consider holding an event to encourage good mental health in parents at your local Mum and Toddler group, think about establishing a mentoring scheme for the children your church comes into contact with or host an event for parents of teenagers so they can exchange wisdom and support one another.

For more information on Children’s Mental Health Week and how you can be involved check out https://www.place2be.org.uk.

 

Time to Talk – 5 Ideas to Get Involved

Today is national #TimetoTalk day in the UK and to join in we thought we would  give you a few ideas about raising awareness in your church or workplace.

  1. Ask a colleague out for coffee – you don’t need to lecture them about mental health, but find out how they’re doing and maybe make a new friend.
  2. Run a cake sale to raise money for Time to Change or ThinkTwice (or a mental health charity of your choice), use the opportunity to talk about how you manage your mental health.
  3. Get together with your midweek group and spend some time looking at the Psalms and praying into the emotions portrayed and how they might be relevant to mental health conditions.
  4. Hold a session with your young people to talk about mental health – you can download plans here http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday-resources#teachers
  5. Book at ThinkTwice Course to equip your team to understand more about mental health and where God is in the midst of it all.

Youth Worker? This is for you…

If you’re a youth worker – this is for you – and I want you to grab a coffee and take a minute to read this – because I wrote it for you.

You with your busy schedules and tight budgets, you with your broken hearts beating for young people – this is for you.


I used to think that the joy of the Lord had to be manifest in a smile forever fixed to my face with tears that never made their way down my cheeks.

I wonder if some of you think that – that your weaknesses have to be hidden in a desire to present yourself the way you want to – or that you don’t feel able to reach out because you don’t feel good enough.

I’ve got some good news for you.

You don’t have to pretend anymore – we have a God who specialises in working in the most wonderful ways in the most broken people.

The people God use the most spectacularly in the Bible are often ones who are the weakest. Paul declares:

‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’

This man who had been one of the greatest persecutors of christianity became one of the greatest witnesses.

Elijah, the man who gets to stand beside Jesus in the promised land fled and begged for death.

And I think the ministry of God through these people tells us something beautiful about the character of the God who calls the broken.

It’s beautifully simple; eat, sleep, eat, sleep and now talk to me – I love that God cares for Elijah’s physical needs for food and rest before he tackles the tough stuff alongside a very real acknowledgement that things have been tough.

We all need that don’t we? We need someone to say “it’s okay – you’re going through a lot – you aren’t alone”.

We need it and our young people need it.

And I think it’s a message writ large throughout scripture.

That we have a God who wants to come close to us; who wanted so badly to get close to us that He sent His only Son to live our life, suffer our pain and die our death.

Throughout it all, God doesn’t promise that we won’t suffer, that life won’t be hard – but He does promise that He will be with us throughout it all.

It’s what my youth workers showed me – that God had planned a future for me that I didn’t even know I believed in, yet alone wanted. They showed me that there was a better way of living; honest with myself, those caring for me and most importantly with God.

God who might not cure my mental illness in the miraculous way I wanted or erase my scars in a second – but He would work through them in the most powerful way imaginable because Jesus himself has scars.

When he rose from the dead, you would have expected his resurrection body to be perfect and unmarked by the dark days before – but He chose to keep his scarred palms for our sake.

To show us that nothing, not scars, not sin, not youth, not age, can separate us from Him and exclude us from Him love.

Scars don’t define our young people and they don’t exclude us from ministry.

Scars tell a story of survival and redemption.

And the scars of Jesus prove it.