“I have paranoid thoughts all the time,” Barry told us. “Voices in my head.” As he shared more, it was evident that Barry had a number of difficulties in his life, compounded by mental health issues.
We began to pray, and within a minute or two, Barry interrupted us. “They’re gone!” he exclaimed. “Those thoughts have stopped. My head feels clear.” He looked surprised. “I feel kind of peaceful.”
Barry’s mental health issues were not all healed in an instant, during those few minutes of prayer. I’ve seen him since, and he still takes medication and has ongoing support mechanisms in place. However, something shifted that day. Perhaps a seed of hope was planted.
In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, there has been a torrent of articles and blog posts about depression, suicide and mental health. In all honesty, I felt pressure to post something substantial, something that carried some weight, something that would maybe turn things around for good in people’s lives. This is a healing blog, after all!
Yet, what could I usefully add to some of the insightful posts already published? How could I achieve the right balance of compassion and sensitivity; not underestimating the desperate circumstances that some people find themselves in; not merely giving platitudes; yet speaking words that give hope? I confess, I didn’t think my response would be adequate.
As a child, I had my first encounter with someone experiencing severe mental and emotional distress. A distant picture memory of my great aunt is indelibly etched into my mind. I remember her shuffling around in her dressing gown and slippers, a blank, desperate stare on her face, with the appearance of a hunted fugitive. The family only seemed to mention her name in whispers. Mental illness had shame and stigma attached to it in that former generation.
A subtle threat seemed to hang over me. If I didn’t pull myself together and toughen up, then perhaps I, too, would be sent off to the hospital, becoming institutionalised and forgotten, my name spoken in hushed tones. Perhaps my Mom meant it as a joke, (though it didn’t seem remotely funny to me), or perhaps it was her unspoken fear, manifesting in verbal threats: “If you’re not careful, they’ll come to take you away.”
Thankfully, there is more positive awareness and less stigma surrounding mental health issues today. Having had personal experience of living with people who have bipolar disorder, and who have been suicidal at times, I have seen first hand the devastating effects this can have, on both the sufferers, and on those closest to them. Yes, this subject gets very personal for me.
As a teenager, continuing into my adult life, I struggled with depression and anxiety. Although I may have appeared functional on the outside, it impacted my work and relationships, making it difficult to maintain any security and stability in my life.
For me, healing has been a process over time. There has been some quite dramatic inner healing, through prayer, coupled with the healing that has happened more gradually, through experiencing the love of God and the love of friends, whom I call my spiritual family.
In the course of praying for many different people over a number of years, one thing stands out very clearly to me. Once we
start sharing our hurts, our fears, our personal battles, it quickly becomes apparent we are not alone. Taking our masks off and reaching out for help, in a safe environment, with trustworthy people, can be liberating.
Despite all our technology, and the ability to connect with one another at the touch of a button, through phones and social media, etc, so many people feel isolated, fearful and lonely.
Do I believe Jesus can heal mental and emotional distress? Yes, I do.
I believe, too, that there is a universal human need to belong. Acceptance in a community of friends or family, who love and understand us, can be so important in sustaining good mental and emotional health.
Having freedom to discover our unique identity and purpose in this life can also help us move towards healing and wholeness.
“You are… wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
You matter. Your life is valuable. There is hope and a future.