Counsellor’s constant refrain: you are not alone
Christians aren’t immune to depression and suicide. Despite that, mental illness is not something the church usually talks about.
“Christians go through many battles and some of these can be the struggle with mental health issues/illness,” said Isis Wellman, a certified addictions and clinical mental health counsellor. “However, many times people in the church don’t reach out because they are afraid that they will not be seen as true believers and will be stigmatised by other church members or church leaders.
“Thus, as a faith community it is important to be aware of how to assist others who suffer from depression, be aware of our own feelings, take care of ourselves and be able to maintain our faith and not feel less of or minimised because of an emotional struggle,” Ms Wellman said. “At the same time, we have to try be empathetic and non-judgemental. I believe empowering our faith community on this topic is very important.”
Ms Wellman, who has 15 years’ experience in the field, said the subject is taboo in every church denomination.
She was pleasantly surprised when invited to talk about mental health at two Seventh-day Adventist churches last year.
One of her goals in speaking with them was to break down the stigma that suffering from depression means you are not strong enough in your faith, or just need more prayer.
It’s her hope that education and a raise of awareness will teach people how to identify depression, the myths around it and the ways to support someone suffering through it.
At both talks she gave advice on how to manage signs of depression, where to go for assistance and how to get back on the road to recovery.
“I wanted people to understand that depression can affect any of us, no matter the age, status, race, culture or spiritual/religious connection,” Ms Wellman said. “I also wanted people to understand that suffering from depression can happen at any time in our lives and also that some individuals can have chronic depression from an undiagnosed mental illness or chemical imbalance.
“Suffering with depression doesn’t mean that you are crazy, less of, or that you have little or no faith in God.
“I wanted people to understand that, even in the church, it is important to ask that uncomfortable question on whether someone is thinking about suicide.”
It is important to understand the signs of those that might be contemplating taking their own lives because of what they are sharing or due to behavioural and emotional signs.”
Dealing with grief, chronic stress, financial issues, life transitions, divorce, bullying, physical/ health ailments, chronic pain or a host of other life challenges can all have an impact on a Christian’s relationship with God, she added.
“Our spiritual connection can wane. That’s why support at those moments from our faith community is very important.
“Understanding how to support and guide the individual to professionals and agencies that can assist in the community is a great addition to our healing and recovery process.
“Oftentimes we forget that the church is for the sick and suffering, and not for those that have been healed and whom are perfect.
“We are all on the journey of recovery from something. As Christians we will have moments where our faith will be tested and because of this we might lose hope.
“Becoming depressed and hopeless doesn’t mean that we no longer believe in God. It is an episode in a person’s life where they will need extra support — not only spiritually, but emotionally as well.”
Though Ms Wellman is a great believer in the power of prayer, she said that suggesting that people ‘should just pray about it’ isn’t always helpful when it comes to mental health issues.
“I believe that God has placed members in our churches/faith community with gifts and talents to assist those in our community with the face-to-face approach, so it is important to have a greater understanding of a biopsychosocial approach to life in our faith community,” she said. “Thus it is important to have a rounded approach to our mental health, with it being physical, emotional and spiritual.
“The better equipped our church leaders and members are in recognising their feelings, being able to reach out for help, and offering support and guidance, the more our church members will feel comfortable in understanding that going through these battles are part of a journey and not the end of our Christian walk.”
She would like to see churches talk more openly about mental health.
She also hopes to see more Christians register for a mental health course offered by Bermuda Hospitals Board psychologists Aisha Basden and Cherita Raynor.
“I want believers whom are struggling with a mental health issue to know that there are days that, no matter how great of a believer you are, you may lose hope and faith and may feel guilty that you are depressed and doubting your faith,” she said.
“However, know that you are not alone; know that God has not and will not abandon you in this journey,” she said. “Seek out support and help. Find someone you trust and open up about what you are going through.
“It can be a church member, a family member, or a friend. Your first point of contact can be your family doctor as well; there are professionals in the community ready to assist you. No matter what, remember that life is a blessing and worth living.”
• The Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute resource line is open to people struggling with mental health issues 24 hours a day — 236-3770. MAWI also accepts walk-in patients and offers free, confidential services. Persons feeling suicidal can visit the Emergency Room at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for immediate support.