May 6 to 12th is Mental Health Awareness week. CBOQ’s Mental Health Working Group wants to recognize this week by acknowledging the powerful role churches can play in the lives of people with mental illness. The first step is to remove the stigma surrounding mental health within our communities. If you are interested in knowing more about the steps your church can take please visit our webpage, Mental Health Matters at, https://baptist.ca/churches/church-life-new/church-development/mental-health-matters/
Liz Millican is a member of CBOQ’s Mental Health Working Group. We are including an excerpt from a blog post she wrote as part of our recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week. This blog is written from her own experience of recovery from depression and post-traumatic response symptoms. Liz is also a student at Tyndale studying clinical counselling.
By Liz Millican,
Martingrove Baptist Church, Toronto
It’s common to face challenges that seem impossible to overcome. When you’re depressed, getting better doesn’t seem real. The idea that taking action could help you feel better seems laughable. Happiness can seem like a fairy tale.
If you feel that way, it’s important to pay attention to observable truth. First, there are people who have suffered from these issues and have successfully found help.
Second, if you don’t take action to change something you don’t like, what do you expect to happen? How you feel is extremely unlikely to change without some sort of change in your thinking, which impacts your behaviour.
For thought change: Challenge negativity.
We can often have thoughts that are so negative they immobilize us. I remember feeling like no one cared about me and I looked for reasons to confirm my belief. If someone didn’t say hi to me then I assumed they didn’t care. I didn’t give other people the benefit of the doubt. I just assumed the worst case scenario and this stopped me from pursuing relationships with others.
Assuming the worst made me afraid to talk to people and reach out. My thinking affected my willingness to take action in a negative way. When I learned to challenge my negative thoughts it was easier to set goals and take steps to improve my life. Assuming the best about others motivates you to work through problems.
Avoid talking in absolutes. If you catch yourself using phrases like always, never, no one, everyone, etc.,then you’re using absolutes. Using these phrases convinces you that things can’t change. If you think something can’t change then you’re giving yourself an excuse not to try. If what you’re doing doesn’t work then learn about what does work.
Change the channel on who you listen to. It is easiest to challenge negative thoughts by sharing them with someone who can encourage you. While there are people who speak negativity instead of giving kind encouragement, the only way to find encouraging people is to give people a chance. Spend less time with people who speak constant negativity and surround yourself with people who can help you focus on the positive in your life and motivate you to pursue your goals.
In high school I spent time with friends who didn’t have goals and just focused on having fun in the moment. While I have some great memories from that I also made some bad decisions which resulted in low confidence. Spending more time with people who encouraged me to do better in my life helped me pursue change. That also meant spending less time with people who weren’t helpful or encouraging. Eventually my unhealthy friendships died as I moved in a different direction.
Helping others who are struggling can be difficult as shifts in thinking usually need to be made slowly to become permanent. Also, the person is trying to make these changes while in the midst of experiencing the often debilitating symptoms of their illness. We wouldn’t expect someone who had just taken off a cast to run a marathon. They would need to build up strength in physiotherapy first. Since mental illness is often a medical concern, the person will also need to be in consultation with a doctor about the right medication to alleviate their symptoms while seeing a professional counselor or therapist who can guide them through the process.
Here are three questions can help you talk with friends who have mental health issues. Be in prayer for the person silently as you connect with them. They may not be ready to pray out loud with you depending on how they are doing. It is a time for you to carry the hope of their recovery for them.
What success have you had in the last week? This question allows people to acknowledge any success they’ve had, big or small, even if it’s just getting out of bed. In the beginning be ready to offer some examples of successes you have seen as the person might not be able to see them.
What is a challenge you’ve faced in the last week? The best response to this question is to acknowledge how hard it is for the person struggling. Most people can’t move on from their pain until someone acknowledges it. Telling someone “that must be hard” can be a big help.
The last question can naturally shift them back to the positive by letting them know that you are there with them in their journey.
How can I support you? For someone who struggles with this question, set up a time to check in with them the following week. Maybe suggest doing an activity that you know the person has enjoyed doing before without putting an expectation on the person to do it when the time comes. If they are having a difficult day they may not be able to engage in something that requires energy. If this is the case leave the invitation open for another time.
Providing a loving, non-judgmental and hopeful presence in the lives of people who are experiencing mental illness is a powerful way for church communities to shine the light of Christ in the world around us.