Our identity is in Christ, not our poor mental health.

To declare to the world “I suffer from poor mental health” is one of the scariest things anyone could do. How will people react? Will I get that promotion? Will I be able to lead in church? Am I a lesser Christian?

I suffer from depression and I know these thoughts all too well. Looking back at my life, I see it has been with me well before I can remember, it’s only in adulthood that I decided to take action and find out what is going on in my brain as things were clearly not right.

I was once rebuked by a boss that I couldn’t have depression because I was always cheerful. And that, although harmful at the time, is where our faith comes in. Our identity is not in our mental well-being, but in the love that Jesus has for us. We can experience immense pain, but we can also experience the sense of joy in knowing that we are loved and forgiven.

Displaying a fruit of the spirit shows our broken world that God is far greater than any illness, and He is with us even when we’re at our most vulnerable. This display of God’s power in us isn’t something that is forced, or made up, but something the outside world witnesses while our inside self is crumbling with harmful thoughts of ‘you’re useless and worthless’.

Within scripture we read how God has helped those with poor mental health. Elijah wanted to end his life, but God gave him food for energy to live another day. While Jonah was feeling low, God grew a vine around him to ‘ease his discomfort’, as though God himself was wrapping His arms around him. Moses felt weak, but God provided two supportive friends just at the right time. Reading biblical stories like these though can make it very difficult, I have asked myself on difficult days “why doesn’t God embrace me like the vine?”. But in His silence, I am always reassured knowing that He is walking beside me. I guess our faith tells us that the embrace is there, and our hope is that it will come someday.

Jesus Himself couldn’t avoid stress. While His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow in Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to keep watch over Him, but they fell asleep. This can remind us, the church, to be awake and see that there are people suffering all the time. Staying awake and walking with our brothers and sisters who struggle with poor mental health is something we need to reflect on. Perhaps, like the disciples, we as a church have the challenge of being more aware and more alert to the suffering of those around us, even the suffering of ourselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out and encouraging honest conversation, where we are comfortable talking about mental health within our church community, a safe place.

Telling the world you’re struggling should not be scary even though it is. How often are we reminded to fear not? But fear is what gets in the way of talking about how we feel (especially for us men), fear even prevents us approaching others who are struggling. Research suggests that at least 1 in 4 of us will suffer at some point in our lives, but in truth we will all have mental health struggles. Church leaders are far from exempt, and if they’re struggling we need to support them just like Moses’ friends.

Let us be a church that provides the food for the anxious just as God provided for Elijah. Let us become the vine that wraps our arms around those suffering with bipolar. Let us not fall asleep like the disciples, let us reach out and set the captives free through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Church of Ireland through MindMatters COI wants to address mental health within our communities and is taking the plight of so many of us seriously. It’s now time to talk, and remember if you’re suffering, you are no lesser a Christian and you’re definitely not alone.

Written by Andrew Brooking, a parishioner of St Patrick’s, Ballymoney, Diocese of Connor.

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing Lead, at mhp@rcbdub.org for more information.