An article for World Mental Health Day:
The lady who called me was clearly struggling as her depression had worsened. She had been through many sleepless nights and kept hearing voices at times. Restful sleep had eluded her the previous night as well. “Pastor, could you please pray with me?” she requested. I did. I prayed with her.
I normally sleep well at night, but there are some occasions when I struggle too; particularly if a tough decision or a difficult conversation is ahead of me. On such occasions, I generally feel quite sluggish the following day. Focusing on my work seems more difficult too. “If I struggle so much after losing just one night’s sleep, how difficult must it be for someone who has to cope with many sleepless nights?” I thought to myself after the call.
The problem of mental health keeps increasing rapidly in our stress-filled world, accentuated by the challenges of an unceasing pandemic. Lockdowns have taken their toll on individuals, families, and even on children. Many are the calls I receive from people battling depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, imagined fears, sleepless nights, a poor sense of well-being and an overall sense of helplessness. Dependency on medication keeps growing too.
Although I have never battled serious mental health issues, I have however faced many anxieties and crisis situations that threatened to rob me of my peace and well-being. These included unexpected health challenges – including a serious spinal injury at a young age, a severe accident my then 3-year old son faced, losing my father to a debilitating stroke, and being unfairly treated at difficult moments. However, some important factors have helped me through those times of anxiety, and even through the emotional struggles of the pandemic. I would like to highlight some of these factors with the hope that it would be helpful to someone as it has been to me.
Faith in God – This has been a pivotal part of my life that has sustained me and my family through the tough times.
Family – Talking things out in a relaxed atmosphere with my wife and two sons always helps to bring my thoughts into proper perspective. It also reinforces the fact that I am not alone.
Living one day at a time – Many battling mental health issues struggle to focus beyond their immediate circumstances. They can’t seem to focus on the future. Learning to live one day at a time without worrying as advocated by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 6:25-34, can be of great help and act as a stress-reliever.
Meditation – A daily time of meditation and prayer in the morning renews me for the challenges of the day.
Seeking wise counsel – It is important to seek professional help or wise counsel when facing a distressing situation. I have a group of wise counselors and friends that I can talk to if ever a burden seems too heavy to carry.
Encouraging others – This happens to be one of my pastoral responsibilities and I enjoy the thought of bringing encouragement to others as often as possible. It’s hard to stay discouraged when encouraging others! In return, I often receive encouragement from others too. (Sometimes all that is needed is just to be there for someone).
A couple known to me, took time off their busy schedule to visit a lady who had just lost her husband. Since they didn’t know the lady too well, the visit turned out to be an awkward one, with neither party communicating too much. The grieving wife in fact hardly spoke a word. When the couple eventually left, they felt disappointed that they had failed to comfort the grieving widow. Many months later, to their absolute surprise, she told them that their visit had been one of the most encouraging moments for her during her time of sadness!
Close Friendships – I remember the time I spent 25 days in hospital due to a serious problem with my spine. It was a tough place to be in as a young person, and the possibility of a surgery was in the air. Much of the discomforts of those long days were soothed however by the encouragement of a few friends who visited almost daily to encourage me. One even handed me a personally written note of encouragement whenever he visited! Thankfully, the surgery was not needed.
Regular exercise – Getting out into the open and being close to nature has a healing effect and refreshes the mind.
Getting adequate sleep and nourishment – ‘Burning the candle at both ends’ does not augur well for mental health. On the contrary, adequate rest and good nourishment certainly does. The Bible carries a touching story of how God provided nourishing food and restful sleep to his burnt-out prophet Elijah, who was arguably contemplating suicide (1 Kings 19:3-8).
Doing something new – During the lockdown periods I invested some of my time in writing. I even had the opportunity to participate in an extremely informative 5-day online writers’ conference called ‘Publishing in Color”.
I trust these thoughts will be useful to you if you are facing any challenges to your mental well-being today.
Due to the challenges of mental health in society today, our church organization is also very focused now on providing support where possible to those affected. As part of our commitment towards this, we have already provided the necessary training to some of our staff. We have also opened a telephone hotline that anyone could connect to, when in need of counsel or prayer, or maybe when just needing someone to talk to.
Let’s look for opportunities whereby we can provide empathy and support to someone facing mental health challenges today. It just may be that person that flashed through your mind right now!
How have you coped with mental stress? Your thoughts and suggestions on this topic are most welcome.
For further reading on this subject click here.