Tag Archives: awareness

World Health Day 2017 – Depression

“This weather is so depressing”

“I’m so depressed about Manchester United losing at the weekend”

Depression, depressed, depressing – they’re all rather overused words. And yet they don’t do justice to what the reality of clinical depression is.

“Sometimes”, says a fellow depressive, “I wish I was in a full body cast, with every bone in my body broken. That’s how I feel anyway.” Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog. (1)

It is a brilliant description for a terrifying and sometimes life threatening mental illness which affects 1 in 6 people in the UK – and this year its the focus of World Health Day. So often because everyone feels “depressed” at one time or another, it can be all too easy to trivialise clinical depression, easy to brush under the carpet, to instruct the sufferer to “pull themselves together”.

And yet.

Can you imagine what life is like for the person who lives each day desiring death? Where you wake up in the morning exhausted and stagger through the day in the same haze of exhaustion. Where food tastes like sawdust, your eyes struggle to focus and your heart is crushed with a heavy sadness. These are just a few of the symptoms of clinical depression and a diagnosis of depression can be made with five or more of these symptoms and it is vital to see your GP as soon as possible so that you can get the help and support you need.

Depression can suck the life out of people, and drain the energy and compassion from those around the sufferer.

There is, however, hope.

It is a serious illness, but it can be dealt with and helped. It can sound simplistic; but a healthy lifestyle with enough food, water, fresh fruit and vegetables with regular exercise can help to release “feel-good hormones”. Whilst these lifestyle changes don’t necessarily “cure” depression, they can go towards alleviating some of the symptoms.

Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and psychotherapy can equip people to deal with the things that have happened in their lives and the thought patterns which may have become entrenched.

Personally, what has helped me the most is the love and care of those closest to me. For the times when I have been unable to face another day, or to speak through my tears – and those I loved would hold me close and assure me that I am not alone.

Because that is often the depressive’s worst fear. That people would see the darkness within and run for the hills.

All too often, sufferers of depression push their nearest and dearest away. But in the midst of my own darkness, I found the following words profoundly helpful.

Andrew Solomon writes in his aptly named “The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression”

“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” (2)

Above all, cling to God. When you feel as if He is further than He has even been – hold on. Because He is there and He will always be there. On one of the worst days of my life, I was given these verses to reflect on from Psalm 40:

“I waited patiently for the LORD, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.”

They are verses which have become my prayer and it is my pleasure and privilege to try to put some of the darkness to good use.

I will not say, cannot say that the darkness has gone completely. It hasn’t, sometimes it remains and drains me. But there is hope. Hope because I have learned, over the years to hold on. Hope because there are those who love me. Hope because we have a God who does not let  go. Hope because there is medication which helps to balance the chemicals in my brain which go a little haywire!

My message for World Health Day 2017?

There is hope.

Even when you can’t see it.

Even when everything feels hopeless.

There is hope.

(1) Brampton, S. Shoot the Damn Dog, London: Norton, 2008.

(2) Solomon, A. Noonday Demon, London: Vintage Books, 2002.

Guest Blog: A Mother’s Love – Mothering Sunday Special

She was a beautiful baby.  And so say all parents of their children!  But really, she was a beautiful baby.

To be honest it wasn’t a great start.  From the very first breath came problems with her health, and as one issue resolved or improved another seemed to take its place.  But these were physical problems, all thankfully treatable and eventually controlled to some degree, be it with time, or medication or both.

So as she grew it was perhaps understandable that she was a bit clingy, often reluctant to take part and always resistant to anything new.  She spent lots of time with other children, was taken along to places and put in situations where social skills could bloom; the constant prayer being that she would gain confidence and embrace life.  We tried ballet (dis-aaaa-ster!) and swimming (Mmmm…), theatre school (ok-ish) and trampoline (better!) and lots of activities based at the church we attended.

In some ways it appeared to work – she was lively and lovely and found her (singing) voice at an early age.  There she was on stage at school in the leading role of Mary and the ‘Littlest Angel’ singing her heart out, taking part in church productions, her small frame belying the huge and glorious voice that erupted from her often ineffective lungs when it came to simply breathing!

But then came the teenage years.  No, not drugs and alcohol and rock and roll.  Not staying out all hours.  Not shouting bitter words of recrimination at the restrictions of youth.  How I longed for those signs of teenage angst.  No, my beautiful baby was afflicted with an altogether darker, untameable malaise – depression.  A word does not even begin to encompass the width and depth and breadth of its meaning.

Watching your child fall into the abyss and not even want to climb out is soul destroying and unbearably painful.  Every time you think you avert one disaster, another potential tragedy lurks in the corner. You keep getting it wrong, you misread things, you make mistakes, you make errors of judgement. Oftentimes you feel an utter failure because she isn’t well and happy and ‘normal’.  Sometimes you cannot share it all with anyone else; the usual sources of comfort and support might not be possible for all manner of reasons – it can be very lonely.

But you never give up, you never relax, you never stop hoping, you never stop praying.  Because there is God.  God is there for you, even when you think he isn’t.  And God is there for her (or him), even when she (or he) doesn’t believe life is worth living.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  No easy answers and not always a happy ending.  But more often than not it does.  Maybe not always a fairytale ending – well, probably not ever a fairytale ending! -but slowly and surely the good days outnumber the bad and the bad days when they come, are a bit less bad.  She holds on to her faith.  She chooses life. You learn to breathe again – and more importantly, so does she.

She was a beautiful baby.  She is a beautiful young woman.

I thank God that I can write that last sentence in the present tense.  That she has come through the darkness of  those years and, together with her scars both inside and out, survived.  And not only survived, but blossomed and flourished and used her hard gained experience and wisdom to reach out to others so that they can access the kind of help that was not always available for her.  So that parents and friends and church leaders can access the kind of help that upholds and supports others like her.  Like me.

My beautiful baby is the founder of ThinkTwice.  She really was a beautiful baby.  She really is a beautiful young woman.  Thank you God.

All The Lonely People


It’s been called an epidemic, a threat to our health that could be worse than smoking or obesity and it can make you prone to depression.

No, I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs.

I’m talking about loneliness.

Not only do over a million elderly people in the UK feel lonely almost all the time, but one third of 18-34 year olds list loneliness as a concern. If the recent BBC documentary “The Age of Loneliness” shows anything, it’s that we aren’t alone in feeling lonely.

And if we don’t like to talk about loneliness in the elderly, we’re often even more reluctant to face the loneliness of young people.

Amplified by the instagrammed perfection of Taylor and her #squad, and the endless stream of images from nights out, in a life which is increasingly being lived online and alone.

And it seems to me that this is a stark contrast to the way we were made to live. Isn’t it written in Genesis, right at the beginning “It’s not good for man to be alone”?  C.S Lewis writes:

“We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, and intellectually. We need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”

We were made for relationships; family relationships, friendship, romantic love. That’s why loneliness feels so difficult.

Studies have shown that the lonely have lower self-esteem, sleep difficulties and even play a part in the development of illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

So what can we do about it?

1.Limit social media

It might have ‘social’ in the title, but watching other people’s filtered lives can increase our own feelings of loneliness. Instead of spending an evening on Facebook, why not heading out to a local community event or ‘phoning a friend or family member?


Whether it be helping out at a youth group or taking a meal ’round to new parents, volunteering can boost your employment chances and help you to connect with your local community. For more information, head to http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/campaigns/end-loneliness-in/.

3.Get Active

The gym might not be for everyone, so why not try a team sport or exercise class to get you out in the evening, raise those endorphin levels and meet some like minded people.

4.Peer Support

If feelings of loneliness are impacting your mental health, investigate peer mentoring and peer support schemes such as your local Mind group.

5.Make the Most of Alone Time

Tackling loneliness is as much about dealing with being alone as it is getting out and about. Use the time you are on your own to watch your favourite box set, do some reading or cooking a nice meal for yourself.



A Vision For Serving the Next Generation: Churches Mental Health Consultancy Keynote

A longer read, based on what I spoke on at the Churches Mental Health Consultancy Conference last week.

The future is looking bleak for our young people.

80,000 have been diagnosed with depression.

In every classroom, there are three children who have diagnosable mental health conditions.

More than half of all adults with a mental illness were diagnosed with their condition during childhood.

As many as 1 in 10 young people get through the day by self-harming.

Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds.

Our young people are hurting, and they are running out of hope.

I know a young woman who’s pain is marked all over her body, she’d tried every avenue of self-destruction because she couldn’t see the value of her life. She had the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen and her gait is slow. She has no vision for a future because she fears that looking that far will be too painful and tiring. She doesn’t want to go any further because she’s eighteen and she tired.

Vision is far off – and young people like this all over our world need us to carry a vision for them when they can barely open their eyes.

We need to recapture a vision for young people like the one I’ve just described.

A vision that shows us how to care for our young people and as I was preparing for this, the thing that kept coming back to me again and again is a verse I was given when I was about fifteen.

I’d been struggling with my own depression for about a year by this point and my youth leader sent me a message with this verse, 2 Timothy 1:7 and it says

“For God has not given up a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”

As a young person this verse really spoke to me because I felt like I was going mad and I desperately wanted God to work in me and if I’m honest, snap his fingers and heal me. What this verse told me in the clearest way though, is that God was not the orchestrator of my pain. God was and is a healing God – whether that be now through medication and counsel, or whether it’s fulfilled in the promise of Revelation 21:4 which says:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This verse is our future hope – I believe that is our ultimate vision not just for the mental health of young people – but for the mental health of all people.

But we aren’t in heaven yet.

And whilst that means our ultimate healing and the day without tears is a way off yet, it doesn’t mean that we don’t experience God’s love and care for us and I think that this is what Paul is trying to tell Timothy in his letter to him.

Paul was Timothy’s pastor and he writes to him in a tender and caring way. Verse 4 says that Paul recalls Timothy’s tears and that brings to mind the shepherd of Psalm 23 leading his flock home and the dedication of a pastor is what young people need and when Paul addresses Timothy directly he gets to the heart of what Timothy needs to hear and like a good Baptist(!) he has 3 key characteristics.

The first thing that Paul addresses is Timothy’s fear or timidity as it is sometimes translated.

“The Spirit [that Paul is talking about] does not turn a timid man into a powerful personality, but he provides the resources necessary for each situation.”

Generation Scared

Our generation of young people are a scared generation.

We have young people scared to go to school because their friends are carrying knives.

We have young people imprisoned by a fear that they aren’t good enough, even with 4 A-levels.

We have young people who are desperate to be protected and yet feeling they must care for whole families.

We have young people so scared of putting on weight that they are starving themselves to death = anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate than any other mental disorder.

When you think about it, it’s not just our young people who are living in a climate of fear. The fear of abduction, cyber-abuse, road traffic accidents. And that fear all too often dictates how we speak to our young people.

We are so scared of saying the wrong thing – that we don’t say anything at all.

The way we relate to the world around us has changed dramatically in the last fifty years – indeed even in the 25 years I’ve been alive life has changed beyond recognition and that can make us scared to face up to the new challenges life brings.

1 in 5 school children first heard about self-harm from the online world, well over a third of young people have a smart phone in their early teens – there’s a life and world out there which is affecting, both positively and negatively, the way in which we minister to young people.

Again, I might have painted a bleak picture, but as ever, the bleakness of the picture cannot help but be out dazzled by the things God has set before.

For God did not make us to live in fear or shame – it didn’t happen until the Fall, did it.

“They were naked and they felt no shame”

Not only are those early passages of Genesis beautiful because they show us how God created things to be – they are also beautiful because they point to a future and more than that – they begin to come to fulfilment in the birth, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and the constant companionship of the Spirit.

And it is through Christ Jesus that we have the vision that Paul sets before Timothy.

No fear.



Sound Mind.

But how do we help our young people inhabit these for themselves?


It’s not about a gospel which says that life will not have fear and pain in it – it’s about a gospel which says that we can live with the fear and pain because God Is With Us.


What does power look like given to us by God?

I think it looks like empowering our young people. Giving them the tools to deal with their pain and strategies to manage their emotions.

We’re used to teaching our toddlers how to deal with their emotions, aren’t we? We teach them that it’s okay to be cross because your little brother stole your toy – but it’s not okay to punch the aforementioned little brother.

The trouble is, we do’t do that we our young people – we don’t give them the tools to deal with the barrage of brand new emotions which barrage them as they enter puberty. Homework pressures, desperately fancying someone who doesn’t know you exist, caring for chronically ill parents  – the list is endless.

We need to equip them the best we can with practical methods of emotional regulation; whether that be scrapbooking to deal with grief to taking glass bottles to the recycling to hear that oh so satisfying noise when they are angry.

God’s given us the ability to construct coping mechanisms – biblically it was often musical – David playing Saul the harp and the prisoners singing out praise from their cell. These aren’t new ideas – but we need to reconnect with them.


The second thing that Paul presents to Timothy is love.

And I don’t mean the mushy romantic “Sam Smith lovesong” (don’t get me wrong – I love that stuff, I got married a few months ago and we had a very romantic dance to Sam Smith!) but I digress.

This is love that weeps.

There is not a clearer picture for me of a love that weeps that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark 14: 32-36 says:

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba,[a] Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’

It speaks to our humanity, more perhaps than any other passage in scripture. Timothy Keller writes:

“He was experiencing an internal and mental agony so unbearable that he felt like the pain alone could kill him right there and then…He’s reeling, dumbfounded, astonished. As he is on his way to pray, a darkness and horror comes down on him beyond anything he could have anticipated, and the pain of it makes him feel he is disintegrating on the spot.”

Nothing but Love could have taken Jesus to the cross and it is love which has to be at the centre of our vision for the mental health of the next generation.

A love that weeps for broken minds and crushed spirits.

A love that shows compassion and sits with young people not with programmes and clever answers, but with love and presence. We need to recapture the art of lament for and with our young people because the stiff upper lip of christianity has done us no good.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, a philosopher who wrote the book Lament for a Son in the aftermath of losing his son in a tragic accident says:

“Why celebrate stoic tearlessness? Why insist on never outwearing the inward when that inward is bleeding? Does enduring while crying not require as much strength as never crying? Must we always mask our suffering?… I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.”

Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazurus, He revealed his risen self first through Mary Magdalene’s tears. There is a whole book in the Bible centering around lament and I think we need to get into the rhythms of our spirituality again – rejoicing at what’s been given and grieving what’s been lost. It might mean holding a special cell group or youth service looking at something like Psalm 88 or it might be in your 1-2-1 mentoring with young people, allowing them to express their emotions whether they be mountaintop or valley.

Sound Mind

And lastly, Paul talks about God giving a sound mind, some translations say “self-discipline” and I’m inclined to think we need to see it both ways.

We are getting better at teaching our young people to talk about not giving into every whim; whether that be through healthy eating or sex and relationships advice. We need to be talking to our young people about impulse control and making choices about how they manage what’s going on with them whether that be managing medication or attending talking therapies. It’s these things that contribute to having a sound mind and maintaining a sound mind even when in the grips of mental illness. Paul again, talks more great sense when he’s addressed the Romans. Chapter 12v2 says:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Speaking truth into the lives of young people isn’t easy – it has a lot to stand up against, but that is all the more reason to speak it. The trite reciting of Bible verses isn’t enough – but teaching context and message and hope, is.

Alongside this, however, is the need to have an understanding of mental health. We don’t need to be psychiatrists or mental health workers – but we need to know what we’re talking about when we talk about mental health in the same way as we might learn basic first aid. It doesn’t make us into medical professionals – but it can keep someone going.

We cannot serve the souls of young people by ignoring their minds and their hearts.

Use all the resources available to you to help equip yourself and your young people to have sound minds. Minds that are not trapped by mental illness or enslaved to self-harm.

We might not be able to cure mental illness – but we can clear the way and our hearts to see some purpose and hope.

Timothy Keller writes:

““Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire.” 

He arms us, not with our power or our own love – but with His infinitely greater power and love.

His power to calm the waves when the storm wages.

His love which weeps with his friends.

His sound mind as he walked through his desert of temptation.

This is our vision for a future generation.

This is our vision for our generation.

So let’s go.

4 Ways to Get Your Church Talking…

…About Mental Health

There is definitely a growing desire in churches to break the silence on mental health issues, so often they are desperate to engage, but have no idea how. So we’ve compiled 4 starter points to help your church join in the conversation on mental health.

1. Pray – Intercessory prayers are a vital part of the corporate church prayer life and so as well as including those you know in the congregation who are physically ill, ask those you know are struggling if they would like to be included in either intercessory prayers at church or through a prayer diary/newsletter.

2. Lament – Allow space in the church year for services of lament; look at the book of Lamentations of some of the Psalms to reflect on where God is when it hurts – both physically and mentally.

3. Preach – The Bible is full of characters who struggled with their emotions; we don’t need to diagnose them with our contemporary ailments, but we can clean wisdom and comfort by preaching from passages such as 1 Kings 19 where Elijah is desperate after fleeing from Ahab; or Matthew 26 as Jesus cries out to the Father the night of His arrest. You could even consider inviting a guest preacher to share their testimony as well.

4. Partner – Get in touch with local charities and voluntary groups who are involved in helping those with mental illnesses to see if you can fundraise or volunteer.

3 Stages of Dealing with Diagnosis – Guest Blog by Abbie Robson

However you look at it, receiving a diagnosis of a long term health condition is life changing. The words “You have…” can turn a world upside down.

And yet, when I was told I had bipolar disorder, my first emotion was relief. Finally, I had an answer for the questions I’d been asking myself for so long. I finally understood why the antidepressants I’d been taking on and off for years didn’t work, and made sense of why I was sometimes the complete opposite of depressed – filled with energy, hugely productive, and able to do more than my friends with no grasp of how on earth they could be tired. It was as if a breath I’d been holding for years could finally be let out.

That day set in motion a process that will probably be lifelong. Looking back I would say that there were three processes I went through.


Despite the diagnosis being a relief it was still a shock, and accepting it didn’t happen overnight. In fact it’s a journey I’m still on. Bipolar disorder can be a serious illness, and every so often something comes along again that brings home the fact that, even when I’m well, I still have a condition that needs managing and careful observation of how I’m feeling.

Acceptance means fighting denial. For a long time I struggled to believe it. I couldn’t decide who was making too much fuss – me, or the doctors, friends and family who tried to persuade me. There have been times when I’ve stopped taking medication because I refused to believe it. Fortunately I’m past that stage now, but I still question it every so often, suddenly unconvinced – accepting is a process.


After the earthquake of diagnosis and the aftershocks of denial came a period of adapting. The main plus side of being diagnosed was that, once I knew what it was, I knew what I was fighting and could start to put specific things in place to make it better – self-management is easier when you know what you’re managing.

Adapting happened in stages. At first it was forced – I had to set alarms to remind me to take my tablets, and get used to the side effects that come and go. I even set an alarm to go to sleep! I also had to get used to the fact that people who knew often saw me differently once they knew about the diagnosis, and adjust to losing friends who weren’t willing to understand.

Now most of those things come naturally. I make sure I get into the fresh air every day, even if it’s just a short walk. I try and eat better. I don’t drink alcohol other than the odd glass of wine. I go to bed at roughly the same time each night. When I’m well I can be a bit less rigid about it, but if I begin to feel down (or my friends tell me I’m ‘up’) I get strict with myself again.


Having bipolar has changed from being an enormous battle to an ongoing walk beyond enemy lines. Accepting was a stationary phase, Adapting was a preparation phase and Advancing is just that – stepping forward into the unknown.

Despite being on medication that seems to work for me, I still have pop-up symptoms that need dealing with, and every change in mood brings fear that I’m heading back into a major episode.

But the only way to deal with those fears is to keep moving on, brandishing the weapons I have – an amazing husband, a few good, strong friends who tell me the truth, and a supportive doctor with an artillery of medications and a willingness to listen to my concerns. And actually, I’m always going forwards, it just that the hills are sometimes steeper than other times.

The outlook is clear – I know what I’m dealing with. I have a condition that will forever need managing, but I can live with it, as so many do. Diagnosis went from being a thing to be feared to my biggest weapon – I know its name, and a known enemy can be tamed.

Abbie Robson is the author of two books on self-harm, “Secret Scars” and “Insight Into Self-Harm”, she is also a Mum of two and blogs at https://pinkandbluemummyland.wordpress.com.