Tag Archives: mentalhealth

A Thrill of Hope

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O Holy Night is without doubt my favourite carol. There is something so poignant that speaks of the expectation of Advent, the hopeful waiting of a people waiting for their Saviour and on that night hope finally broke through in the most unexpected way.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

After all this time, hope has won. All the wars and fighting for home, the longing for rescue, made worth it because a baby was born. A new life that would herald a new hope for the whole world. A new hope because as The Message translates it:

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”

The Creator God of Heaven and Earth came to be with us. Emmanuel.

He came to experience everything human life has to offer, from filing his nappy, to dying the ultimate death and everything in between. More than that, he came to love us in our humanity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this:

“And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

And whatever this Christmas may bring, I pray that the hope that was born in a Bethlehem stable carries you through and that you may be able to rejoice, however weary your world is tonight.

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.

Power.

Love.

Sound Mind.

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

Power

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.

Immanuel.

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.

Love

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.

Accepting

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.

Adapting

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.

Advancing

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.

Shalom, My Friend

Do you remember that song? It went like this:

Shalom, my friends,
Shalom, my friends,
Shalom, shalom.
Till we meet again,
Till we meet again,
Shalom, shalom

It was a staple of my primary school’s assemblies alongside “All things Bright and Beautiful”. I loved the word so much that I actually named one of my teddy bears “Shalom” (but then again, I also had a teddy called “mm mm squeak” so perhaps we shouldn’t delve too deeply!

The thing is, shalom is something that crops up again and again in the Bible and more often that not we tend to think of it as “peace”. It seems to be something soft and fluffy, something like Miss World’s wish for World Peace. The reality is, though, it is so much more than that.

Shalom is a massive concept – and much like everything when it is God-given it’s completely outside of our comprehension. The good thing is, though, is that shalom is intensely practical. John Wilkinson defines it in the following way:

“The root meaning of the word shalom is wholeness, completeness and wellbeing… It does, however have several second meanings encompassing health, security, friendship, prosperity, justice, righteousness and salvation, all of which are necessary if wholeness, completeness and wellbeing are to come about.”

“Mental health” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Bible – and that can cause us some problems when we are trying to communicate its’ importance. And yet reading the definition of shalom, I can’t help but think that it’s describing the ingredients for good mental health. Security, friendship, justice, wholeness.

When in the midst of mental illness, it can feel like shalom or mental health are completely unreachable. And I as I was writing I remembered a time when I was fifteen. I’d spent a long time crying, and fighting and wondering who this God I’d professed my life to a decade before really was when he was watching me hurt so much and not zapping his magic wand to make me all better again. Mental wellbeing felt like something that other people got. (Not that I ever really thought about it in those terms – but you know what I mean)

My youth leader at the time was a great guy, and I think I was one of his trickiest customers – I wasn’t a rebel or mouthy – I just cried.

The first time we properly chatted about how I was feeling, he gave me the following verse from 2 Timothy 1v7.

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

For me, it was reminder that the life I was living wasn’t part of the original plan. I wasn’t been cosmically punished for being a terrible person. I was loved and strengthened by a God who gave me life. Power, love and a sound mind seem to me to be the three main elements of shalom. They enable wholeness and completeness – and it is impossible for us to experience shalom and be mentally whole – without them.

*Adapted from a talk given by Rachael at Youthwork the Conference 2013

#DontCallMeCrazy

I’ve just finished watching BBCThree’s “Don’t Call Me Crazy”, a documentary looking at the inside of one of the few adolescent psychiatric units in the country. 

My reactions were numerous, but the main, resounding one was the same one I get every time I set foot on a mental health unit. 

“We’ve got to shine in here”

They are dark places. There is little that can be done about the fact that they are places characterised by the fear and suffering of those who inhabit them. 

But there is so much to be done about our attitudes towards them. So much to be done to get the light and unfailing hope we have in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into these wards. 

I’m not talking about a fluffy christian ‘joy’ which ignores the pain and suffering.

I’m talking about the hope and comfort found as Thomas the disciple touched the scars on Jesus’ palms.

I’m talking about the wonder of the men on their journey to Emmaus who thought hope had died. 

The driving force behind  ThinkTwice began on a very dark night of the soul on a psychiatric ward. I never want to forget that, and I never want that to cease being part of my motivation. Because that cry for light in the darkness changed everything. 

The bravery of the young people who agreed to be part of the documentary, and spoke so eloquently of their daily battles are an inspiration. I hope that one day, documentaries such as this won’t be necessary, because there won’t be a stigma. The ethics of showing the acute suffering of some so young is a topic for another day because today – I think our focus should be on how we help. 

You might offer to get the shopping, or feed the dog for a friend with a broken leg – what about doing the same for someone with mental illness?

My heart breaks for those broken my mental illness – not just those with a diagnosis – but those who struggle to navigate another’s darkness often with little or no support themselves. 

Let’s break the silence.

For the sufferers and for those who suffer alongside them.