If we were to map out each person’s mental health then I reckon each and every one would look different. As a result I think we need to remember ‘mental health’ is a big umbrella term and see that something that could appear insignificant to one, could be the biggest victory for someone else.
For me, swimming and running helps massively. Not only does exercise give you endorphins, but you are forced to breathe properly, rhythmically and be in control of yourself and your body. When my brain is doing its own thing, this feels like a good place to start! It just so happens that I tend to pray whilst I run too, so it’s an added spiritual bonus! I’d also recommend the book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig. It’s a straightforwardly honest book and is just as much a help to the people supporting those with mental health issues as it is to those struggling with them.
Mental health is often talked about widely and generally. The specifics are rarely mentioned unless it’s you suffering, yet when it gets serious, many don’t know what to say or see it as ‘too personal’ to discuss.
I found this difficult when a lot of my university friends either suffered or were close to someone suffering from mental health issues. As a Christian, I found it difficult to be there for them, without seeming to have some ulterior religious-conversion motive.
My housemate was diagnosed with depression just before exams and it was very hard to help because we didn’t talk about it as a house until it had escalated due to exam stress. One night, I was chatting to a church friend and confessed how frustrating I found it to be in the house and not know how to help. My friend recommended “The Stuff of Life” by Dr Rob Waller, which talks about mental health and other pressures faced during the transition into university and adulthood. More importantly, it talks with God and faith running parallel to the scientific and medical jargon, offering multiple avenues on how to discuss issues in the best way for your situation.
Click here to keep reading Sarah's amazing testimony.
In making this series, I’ve been reading and thinking about the different views of mental health we have. What struck me hardest is the idea that ‘good mental health’, to many people, can simply be coping with life being hard.
This seems tragically inadequate to me. The Bible doesn’t say “life is hard, work on some coping mechanisms and positive psychology to get you by until heaven.” Scripture tells us that something can be done. In fact, something has been done and because of it, we have something to do. Jesus’ death, the ultimate demonstration of God’s love, mercy and goodness, crushed the difficulties and pain in life once for all. Our job is look for this love, mercy and goodness today. Good mental health is not coping with life’s problems, it is seeking the One who transforms problems into refining and purifying fires, and blesses us with beautiful gifts along the way.
What does this look like? For me, I love cooking, spending time outdoors, and reading. God’s creation has a very calming effect on me. Life is unpredictable, but grass is still green, the sun still feels warm on my face and rain still makes puddles. I read, not as an ‘escapism’, but to enjoy the gifts of creativity and linguistic skill. I get stressed, overwhelmed and teary at most things these days, so I try more than ever to remember the day when all difficulties will fade, and focus on God’s good and beautiful gifts today.
For me, ‘good mental health’ revolves around a desire to delight in and explore God’s astonishing creation. As someone who adores most forms of physical activity (freezing winter cross-country’s are debatable!), I know I am at my personal strongest when I spending time cycling, walking, dancing – you name it – in a field, along a pavement or even amongst cars in a car park. For my part, getting moving outside is a real release.
I can focus my energies on what surrounds me and take interest in minute details by noting new sounds and smells; far away from where my mind may want to take me. Even if I’m not working to a particular destination, I find simply moving and viewing my surroundings from a different perspective is beneficial. In ‘tuning in’ with the splendour of our king seen in the world around us, I find it helps me to ‘tune out’ of all that entraps me on a day to day basis.
Breaking free from this by getting out and about is what personally propels be to ‘thrive’ as opposed to just ‘survive’; founded initially in the knowledge that our loving father provided all that surrounds me out of the truest of loves and for our happiness.
I think it’s common that we turn to Christ only when things get bad. I’m definitely guilty of that so I really try to seek him when things are going great as well as badly. I have a tendency to overthink and worry about little things - I’ve learnt, over the years, to trust God with it all. It's still a work in progress!
One thing I've found really valuable is looking at the gifts and skills God gave me and using them for his glory. I've always loved being creative - painting and drawing. More than anything I find it really therapeutic but it also brings me real joy to be using the gifts God has given me too.
Hi I'm Sarah, I'm 16 years old and back in November 2016 my Mum passed away from ovarian cancer. It was really tough for all of us as a family but what really helped us through it was our faith in God. Because we know that whatever happens in life - whether it's good or bad, it is already written down in God's big diary (or something to that effect!) and it is part of his plan! So even in the darkest days when my mum was really ill, I knew that this was planned and that something good would come out of it.
When I was little I liked fuzzy felt boards. I loved how I could stick characters on a board and see the picture I made (I also loved the feel of the felt but that's beside the point). In a way, God's plan is like this, in that we are on the fuzzy felt board of life and only God can see the big picture.
We do not know what will happen next but he does. So we have to be patient and hopeful and know that everything truly does happen for a reason. Knowing this really helped me keep my head above the crashing waves we faced and I hope it will help you too.
When chatting this topic through with someone I trust recently, we started discussing this verse from the end of Philippians: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, MSG)
Paul is saying that consciously choosing to think about good things (and of course the absolute best person to meditate on is Jesus!) is a great way to live.
This is something that I seek to do each day. I don’t always get it right, and I’m absolutely not saying that this is the reason that I haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness yet. It is, of course, far far more complex than that. However, my prayer is that meditating on this verse may help you like it helps me - so that when those moments come and we have a choice whether to think about the lovely or the ugly, we can pray that God would help us to choose the lovely.