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Let’s talk about mental illness

It could be my heightened attraction to articles on depression, having been ‘officially’ diagnosed with the black dog four months ago, but I am noticing more and more public discussion on mental illness, particularly within the church. I am both grieved and elated – grieved to hear of Stephen Fry’s forlorn, unhappiness and loneliness in his eloquent exposition following his recent, high profile suicide attempt. I am moved by Katherine Welby’s reflections on hopeful depression, and her courageous conversations following media interest in her blog article. I joined with thousands around the world grieving the news of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, committing suicide after a life time battling with his mental illness, and was humbled by a Jewish Rabbi’s report of the Warren’s return to Saddleback, outlining their task to ‘mine hope from the hopelessness of such devastation.’

As tragic as these accounts are, I can’t help but feel an element of relief. Relief that people are talking about mental illness. Relief that health organisations have upped their anti and are increasing their campaign efforts. Relief that the church, in particular, is under more pressure to support those with mental illness.

My one place of refuge, the church, became my prison in the early stages on my breakdown. Instead of running to it, I found myself fleeing from church for the past year, after being told by individuals in my community that I ‘needed more joy’, that I should visit prayer rooms instead of doctors, or that my behaviour was increasingly inconsistent and, therefore, people were explicitly withdrawing from my company. I questioned my faith, with thoughts along the lines of ‘I can’t face seeing my home group this week’, ‘I don’t feel like worshipping this Sunday’, or ‘am I that problem person in the church: the one with all the issues that everyone is tired of?’ I even went as far as: ‘am I even a Christian if I’m struggling so much with life?’

Whilst I believe wholeheartedly in prayer, prayer rooms, etc., it wasn’t as if I wasn’t praying every day for things to get better. I was, as journal after journal of pleading with God remind me as I reflect on the pages searching for some answers. It was initially only my pastor who suggested therapy and who was subsequently there for me via telephone to hear of my diagnosis. No one else thought to ask, ‘do you think that you might be depressed?’

However, through being diagnosed and sharing with the closest of my friends – the friends that I knew wouldn’t judge me, the ones who kept calling me on the telephone over the months, even though I never picked up or returned their calls – I discovered a secret: that a vast majority of my Christian friends were suffering, or had also suffered, with depression and knew exactly what I was going through. I discovered that depression ran in my family. I began to be able to detect it in others. I realised that I was not alone, and this led me to discover true church: community, understanding, trust and acceptance, in a way that I had not experienced when I “had my sh*t together” and was frantically paddling trying to keep my head above water.

My boyfriend, who doesn’t believe in God, once asked me why God didn’t answer my prayers and miraculously heal me of my depression. I have asked that question myself, as I know that God is big enough to be able to heal me at the click of His fingers. But this is one of those things that will take time. Medication and therapy have been an answer to prayer in and of themselves – and no, I don’t think it’s a sin to take anti-depressants. Anyone who does think so can come and have a chat to me after a few days of being off them.

Through talking it through with God, I’ve resolved that it’s taking time because I need time: time to face some of the things I’d been avoiding all of my life to date. Time to re-evaluate what’s important to me. Time to learn how to be kind to and look after myself – and more importantly, to let God look after me. Time to build myself up again so that I can not just ‘last’ another 25+ years, but LIVE another 25+ years. Live in the sense of having life and life to the full. As Pete Greig outlined in a brilliant talk the other Sunday: so that I can become wine instead of raisins (listen to it here)

Will my depression ever go away? I hope that it will and I fear that it won’t. Is this one of those ‘it’s tragic but I’m glad I’m going through it sanctification through affliction’ type of stories? I wish. If I could live without it, believe me, I would. But while I am experiencing it, I am learning. That’s the beauty of life: we can learn something from everything, albeit in hindsight. That’ll be the book that I will write in years to come: The Gift of Hindsight.

For now, I will do all that I can to encourage conversation on mental illness, for conversation leads to understanding; the shedding of light. And where there is light, there is hope.

For information about Christianity and Mental Illness, check out http://www.mindandsoul.info/

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4 thoughts on “Let’s talk about mental illness

  1. Beautifully written. True church is so “Community, understanding, trust and acceptance”.

    Healing is something we’ve wrestled with in our home group in the last few months – it’s a topic that, perhaps more than anything, is able to both raise us and hurt us personally and in our faith. Nicky Lee at Focus in the children’s worship service gave these wise words to families coming forward for healing prayer: “You may not be healed, but God blesses you for asking”. It may have been a children’s service but I don’t think anything I’ve heard or read has helped me as much as those few words. I suppose that blessing may be, like you say, something that is revealed in hindsight and isn’t easy to see, but I believe it is there.

    God bless,
    Andrew

    • Jules Baker says:

      Thank you, Andrew. ‘Wrestling’ is definitely the right verb. I’m interested in Nicky’s wise words that you picked up on – some could say that the blessing would be healing, what else could be God’s blessing be if it is not? But I think that ‘faith’ extends to having ‘faith’ that God is, ultimately, good. And that, perhaps, Him hearing our prayers is blessing in an of itself? I dunno… I’ve never really understood ‘blessing’ – what it covers, what it doesn’t, how it manifests…. but boy, do I know that I want it!

  2. David Hibbard says:

    We never met when you were in the U.S.(for the Alpha internship in Seattle Washington), but in any case this is quite an encouraging blog :). I have struggled with depression for most of my life, off and on, I’ve been through suicide attempts and attempts at medications (trying to find the right ones), and nothing helped. But God is indeed good, He made it so that depression isn’t my identity, He gave me my identity in Him. I am a ransomed son of The Most High God, who struggles with depression, and praise Him that those times are becoming less and less. They greatest thing I found that after a few victories, I began to know that the depression is temporary, and if God can just bring me through it I will be okay in a little while. Everyone’s experience with depression is a little different, I hope and pray that the Lord take this depression from you and that you are able to use this to His eternal Glory!

    God Bless,
    David Hibbard

    • Jules Baker says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks so much for your honesty. It’s so refreshing and although we never met, we have connected through a shared experience. I’m sure there’s a Bible verse in there somewhere…

      I’m fascinated by your learning that your depression isn’t your identity. It’s so freeing to be able to separate who you are from what you do in that way…I’m thankful that I have friends who can separate who I am from my depression, too, and remind me of who I am when my vision is blurred by that heavy, dark cloud. I’m also encouraged to hear that you know that the depression is temporary. Gives me faith that mine is, too.

      Prayers and blessings to you, too,
      Renou

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