I have to be honest - the church suffers the same lack of communication as everyone else when it comes to talking about mental health, which has been to the detriment of us in its ranks who find ourselves struggling with different issues. The church has followed culture in thinking that men's mental health isn’t as big a deal and that men are tough and just get on with it. Sadly, that is not the case.
Although Christianity offers a hope that the world doesn’t, when it comes to our mental well being there are still gaping holes which the church must address, but does already have the answers for.
From a very young age I was mentally and physically bullied and had a rough ride at home, so church was my escape. I had somewhere that ran a load of activities through the week that were very accessible, fun and with great friendly people. I was in several youth groups, The Boys' Brigade and went to Sunday School.
My home life didn’t change as I grew older, but I was able to escape and focus on something else. I remember vividly the day I contemplated running away. I just wanted to be free and away from the horrible things that were happening, yet a voice stopped me. God spoke to me and reassured me.
I was never promised an instant change in my circumstances or the mental damage it was doing to me. I knew I wasn’t alone in facing this, that the God who I had been taught about in all those groups did actually care. That encounter didn’t make me a Christian, it just gave me a stronger foundation. I was still messed up, and I am still a work in progress. It didn’t stop my attention seeking behaviour at the different groups.
As I am sure you are all aware, we all long for physical and verbal affirmation, something I wasn’t getting from home. My young faith was based on knowledge and a good amount of it. The problem being that we can know many things, but when it comes to matters of emotional or mental wellbeing, we can’t just treat them with knowledge.
We are sociable people and want to be in emotional stimulating situations. Yet through depression, anxiety, etc these situations become more and more alien and unattainable. And no amount of head knowledge will change that if we struggle to make good connections with people.
I was the clown of the group over-trying to be loved and failing miserably. I did have some strong friendships who were rocks in my life, God-given legends who helped me a lot. My Christianity didn’t come to reality till I was 16 when at an evening service. the preacher was talking about what happens when we die and the judgement of God. It was then that my head knowledge made sense as I saw the reality of what Jesus did on the cross, dying in my place and taking my deserved judgement on Himself, that this unworthy sinner was granted access to God through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. I felt super unworthy before this, I had been told that I was a thousand times at home. Yet Jesus still did it for me, even if I felt like I was the worst most unworthy person in the world.
Did lightning strike and my life change dramatically overnight and everything become miraculously great overnight? Nope, actually it got worse. I got kicked out 6 months later and ended up living in Wales with my girlfriend’s family. Yet although everything I have faced since I have known He is there and He has my back. God doesn’t promise sunshine and rainbows for the rest of my life, that’s not how life works. He promises that He is with me in all things and that He loves and cares for me. I still struggle with self-image and lack of confidence, yet every day I’m getting better in these areas.
I want to share about a time when depression left me not wanting to leave the house.
I was co-leading a church and things were on the up and up. We had some big events coming up and an exciting summer planned for community events and fun days in the local area. My co-pastor and I were great friends, but then he started to become more distant. Our weekly meetings together became more strained and I had no clue about what was going on. It all came to a head while I was on an away day helping with a different church. He rang saying he had cancelled everything we had planned and that he needed space and would meet me in a couple of months. It hit me like an express train. I just didn’t know what was going on and I spiralled down. Slowly to begin with, but when he started personally attacking me through others and demanding that I leave the church, I started to go in on myself.
I was completely behind a smiling mask, yet inside torn to pieces and falling apart. All the voices from my past came flying back at me and I felt useless and inadequate. A guy who I thought was my best friend had basically stabbed me in the back and I was starting to believe I deserved it. I didn’t want to leave the house or even get dressed.
Feeling sorry for myself in my PJs just wanting it to all go away. I am thankful for Godly friends who got me out and kept me busy, and for the realisation that it wasn’t the end of the world. God still had me and had a plan and a purpose for me. It was a rough time in my life and one I wouldn’t wish on my enemy.
Its scars are still there and negative thoughts can still try to invade from it. If it wasn’t for God I wouldn’t have got through, He was the light in the darkest place, no matter how hopeless I felt, or questioning how I could ever move on from it. God offered me hope and peace, and a future. I still have days where I don’t feel good about myself or what I can do. Yet those days are getting less as I rely on how He views me.
I think at times that as a Christian I shouldn’t be struggling or share that I am, especially to unbelievers as it somehow diminishes Gods power. The reality is further from the truth, the bible says:
2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The truth is that when seeing our weakness and trust in His power and grace, we are made strong, as we rely on him and not on ourselves. Yes, I have made many a mistake and have been treated badly. Yet it’s that knowledge of my limits and that He is there for me and my benefit that keeps me strong. My weakness rests on His power, knowing that I don’t face anything alone.
Churches like many institutions need to be more vocal on mental health and speak out and support better than they currently do. We all struggle in different ways and hiding it or putting a brave face on doesn’t help us. we all need a safe place to open up and share whats going on in our lives.
An incredibly honest blog, and a fascinating insight into how faith and mental ill-health can converge from Chris. Has your own faith helped or hindered your recovery? Does your belief keep you well or has it been shaken? Let us know in the comments below.
You can take a look at our Man-Kit on faith and spirituality right here.
Chris is now the Chaplain at Hartlepool United FC. He also runs the local branch of Andy's Man Club which meets every Monday evening at 7 pm (except Bank Holidays) in the Centenary Lounge at Victoria Park. You can keep up-to-date with them on their Facebook page (linked here).