As COVID progresses from pandemic to endemic status, things aren’t necessarily improving.
In fact, health professionals warn of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health issues as we process our experiences of the past few years.
Research suggests that more than 50% of us are concerned about our mental health and around half also experiencing stress, anxiety, low mood, or depression. What’s more, one in six children has a mental health problem. This is an alarming rise from one in ten in 2004. (NHS Digital)
But let’s not forget that even before the pandemic, our nation was in the midst of a mental health epidemic. Between 2006 and 2016, suicide rate of UK students increased by 56% (Pinkney et al, 2018, in press).
What has all this got to do with Church?
A few years earlier, the American pastor Rick Warren spoke about his son’s suicide and urged the church to stand up and recognise “the wolf in its midst.”
In an interview, Rick said, “It’s amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there’s no shame and stigma to it, but if your brain breaks down, you’re supposed to keep it a secret.”
We have come some way in breaking the taboo around mental health. We see schools and places of work embracing better mental health practices.
But what about our churches? What more can we do to support those in our congregations and communities who are battling with this issue?
What does the Bible say?
So many passages speak closely to the experience of mental ill-health. Just think of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, or the laments of the Psalms, or 1 Peter5:7 where we are called to “Cast our anxieties on him.”
Mental illness is undoubtedly complex. The term covers everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and psychosis.
As Christians, we are called to love others unconditionally, but not to ‘fix’ them. We’re not here as a substitute for professional support.
What churches can do is support people on their journey toward better mental health.
We can’t underestimate the power of being a community that demonstrates Christ’s love and builds relationships where people genuinely care for each other.