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Mental health and religion: give yourself grace and then take action

Juanae Crockwell, The Royal Gazette's religion correspondent (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Monday is World Mental Health Day, a time of intentional reflection and advocacy of mental health issues; an opportunity for all stakeholders to mobilise in support of those who are affected by mental health challenges daily.

Every year, as this day of reflection approaches, I pause with immense gratitude and reflect on my own mental health journey – a journey I have shared publicly both here in this column and in other social spaces.

I’ve shared about suffering in silence with anxiety and depression and my journey to formal medical diagnosis. Despite being raised in a middle-class, two-parent home, going to a private Christian school, attending church every Saturday morning, reciting scriptures and singing in the choir, I still struggled immensely. No one is exempt. Everyone is just one crisis away from mental illness.

I struggled with emotional regulation and low moods – although at the time I could not identify it as such. In my adolescence, I remember feeling deeply disconnected but lacked the vocabulary or confidence to express it.

Because in my home, at my school and within my church, we never talked about mental health. We never talked about the reality that – while we may have been created in the image of God – people have psychological challenges that church and prayer alone cannot fix.

We did not talk about the fact that in addition to reading your Bible and singing heartfelt hymns, some of us – an astounding 25 per cent of the global population – need professional intervention.

No one told me that, while I could be made a “new creature” in Christ Jesus, I might still have very real and legitimate chemical imbalances in my brain that cause me to process and respond to life differently than others. And no one told me that that is OK.

No one acknowledged the weight of the traumatic experiences I endured as a child. We just got up every Saturday morning, put on our Sabbath best and smiled from the second pew.

Instead of being equipped with the tools to navigate my own mental wellness, every time I was met with a challenge that seemed too hard for me to handle, someone told me to pray about it. Because, after all, God would not give me more than I could bear, right?

I grew up consuming very specific messaging that led me to the altar as a solution for all of life’s problems except, in most cases, the altar did not solve anything. I left carrying the same burdens I arrived with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand what my parents, pastors and teachers were trying to do. They wanted to instil in me a total reliance on God. I get it. But the Bible itself tells us that faith, if it has no works, is dead.

So, as we approach World Mental Health Day, I want to take a moment to validate and honour all the people of faith who struggle with their mental health. You are not alone, although it may feel like it. Your faith is no less strong, although sometimes it may feel like it.

I know the loneliness of depression. I understand the fear of anxiety. I know how it feels to pray and ask God to let you die, because living seems too hard.

And I know what it’s like to have these feelings dismissed by well-intentioned people who quote scripture and promise to pray for you. I know how hard it is to whisper a polite “thank you” when you really want to scream and cry.

So, if you are reading this and you feel as if your unseen challenges are consuming you, know that I see you. If you feel guilty because your psychological health is making it hard for you to believe, know that I understand. If you’ve been trying to pray away feelings that you cannot fully explain, give yourself some grace.

Give yourself grace and then take action.

While “seeking the kingdom”, seek help here on Earth too. There is no shame in seeking counselling, therapy, or medical intervention to help regulate your mental health. Seeking these tools does not mean you have abandoned your faith in God. On the contrary it shows that you are actively participating in creating a healthy space for God’s miracles to manifest.

In July 2010, when I woke up from a suicide attempt in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, my parents finally knew that I needed more than prayer. I needed intervention.

It was not prayer and faith alone that brought me healing. The life I have today is only possible as a result of the therapeutic mental health interventions I have received over the last 12 years and the active mental health maintenance I have remained committed to; tools like therapy, a 12-step programme, mentorship, meditation and at times throughout this journey, the support of medication too.

I am for ever grateful for each doctor, therapist, mentor and friend that God sent into my life to support and love me on this journey. They were, and still are, the answer to my prayers.

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Published October 08, 2022 at 7:31 am (Updated October 08, 2022 at 7:31 am)

Mental health and religion: give yourself grace and then take action

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