The month of May has been designated for Mental Health Awareness since 1949. I am grateful that the subject of mental health is increasingly part of the public conversation. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth (ages six to seventeen) experience mental illness. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and experts assert that they have skyrocketed in the last two years.
The topic of mental health in a generic sense is considered less hush-hush than in days gone by. But people who step forward and identify their struggle with mental illness are often met with an awkward silence or attempts to change the subject. Much more work needs to be done because only one-third of the people suffering from mental illness seek professional help.
I have been hesitant to talk about my own mental health journey. In my early days of ministry, I was well aware of the stigma for Christians (and even worse, ministers) who needed medication for depression. There were unspoken judgments of having a lack of faith, not trusting Jesus enough to live in the joy He provides. Who wants to be a target of criticism when already feeling incredibly vulnerable?
However, I feel challenged to break my own silence and contribute to finding solutions.
Today I approach you simply as one who has walked the road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was six years old when I had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. I suffered from serious post-partum depression following the birth of each of my five babies. After my fourth child was born, I cried every day for six months until a friend insisted that I make a doctor’s appointment. I encountered several traumatic events throughout my life that took a serious toll on my well-being. I also have had the privilege of ministering to wonderful people seeking answers for their mental health.
The field of mental health is vast. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes. One blog post can barely scratch the surface.
The one thing I do know is that Jesus loves you. In whatever mess you may find yourself, Jesus is there. Not with shame or condemnation, but with grace and wholeness.
The route to wholeness looks different for each one of us; yet wholeness is ours through Jesus.
For me, this has looked like…
- Prayer and worship focused on Jesus as my Healer.
- Taking different medications during different seasons of life.
- Many hours of counseling sessions to unlock trauma from the past.
- Memorizing God’s Word to counteract the negative messages in my mind with God’s truth.
- Working with a psychiatrist to discover how to properly balance my brain chemistry.
- Heartfelt conversations with loved ones about my mental health.
- Dozens of once-full-now-empty tissue boxes.
As you can see, it has been a process involving faith and community. I continue to become who God has designed me to be.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his story about a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord three times to remove it. God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 12a).
What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? There are a variety of thoughts depending on the Biblical scholar you ask. Some say it was a physical condition, perhaps an eye disease. Others identify it as bouts of depression. Still, others claim it was a spiritual attack. Regardless of what the thorn was, we can be encouraged that Paul didn’t define it.
For whatever reason, Paul felt weak and God assured him that His grace was sufficient. Indeed, His grace was all, everything Paul needed. In the midst of weakness that threatened to hinder Paul’s ministry effectiveness, God’s power was at work.
We can take heart. The same God who was with Paul is with us. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. We are never alone.
Knowing this to be true, you can be honest with the Lord. (Um…He already knows anyway.)
You can be honest with others who have shown themselves trustworthy and supportive.
You can reach out to mental health professionals for help.
Mental illness does not disqualify you from God’s call. But, please, don’t leave it untreated.
You can thrive in life and leadership.
Because there is abundant grace and hope in Jesus!