1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem at some time.
In Sheffield 1 in 6 people is estimated to have the most common mental health problems of anxiety or depression. That’s about 100,000 people. Most of these will never seek help, they’ll just struggle on. Life won’t be great. There is a big risk of people being socially isolated and self-medicating, most commonly with alcohol.
When I started my role in mental health commissioning I would have struggled if asked to name someone I knew with mental health problems. Maybe I’d think of that teenage friend who went to University and had a breakdown.
Now I realise that we all know people with mental health conditions, that my family has and does experience them. My wife, Louise has struggled long term with anxiety and depression and is experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
We can look at this in a couple of ways – that life is often awful or that at least the challenges of life are now being acknowledged so they can be faced. I have hope in all this. When people stand together and come out of the shadows we see that we are stronger together. People do recover from mental health difficulties. Beyond this I believe in a God who is bigger than the problems and promises to walk through the valleys with us.
For all of that it’s tough when your head’s not right. I wouldn’t feel shame to say I’m one of the 1 in 4 but I wouldn’t say I am. I was a very insecure kid and I’ve experienced dips into depression but it’s never taken hold. Generally I am pretty steady and am the sort of person others turn to when they’re wobbling but a couple of weeks back I had a day where things really weren’t good.
I got stressed out and however much I tried to reason with myself I didn’t really get anywhere. My head was a mess, my attention span was poor and I was embarrassed by my lack of productivity. I could see what was going on but I couldn’t arrest it.
My head had taken me to a worst case scenario and I couldn’t shake it. I was cross with myself that I couldn’t move on. I felt like I was letting myself down. I tried and failed to straighten myself out for several hours and then I had what in the Christian jargon is sometimes referred to as a ‘divine appointment’. By godly arrangement or coincidence (take your pick but I know what I think) a friend and former colleague walked into the touchdown computer suite I’d escaped to. Patiently and graciously she started to readjust my perspective.
Whether or not I’m one of the 1 in 4 doesn’t matter because I’m part of the 1 in 1 that sometimes has a bad day and gets my head in a bad place. Acknowledging that happens to all of us is a good start to facing this in a healthy way, which is not being down on ourselves and thinking we have to fix ourselves.
Care for the Family, who ran the bereavement weekend we went to recently, have a helpful phrase, which I nicked for the last chapter in my book. They talk about finding a new normal. When your child dies your world stops and finding a new normal is about adapting to make sense of life again.
I want to suggest that there is a new normal for how we deal with our mental challenges whether they are short lived or longer term around the term of things as a burden.
It’s not uncommon for people to say they don’t want to burden others with their problems. This idea is what my Scottish friends would call pish. It leaves us to carry the burden alone.
In contrast, the book of Galatians tell us to ‘carry each other’s burdens’. We’ve all known the times we pull together to help someone through or get a job done. There is a power in working together not just in greater capacity but in drawing on other people’s strengths and insights. That day, my friends words started to lift me out of the pit. Sharing our burdens should be normal.
In Matthew 11, Jesus tells us to come to him if we are weary and burdened and he will give us rest. More than that he offers a new yoke, a new way of doing things that fits, that isn’t too much to carry.
In the words of one of my favourite bands, Athlete:
The world is too heavy
Too big for my shoulders
Come take this weight off me now
The new normal is not just slogging it out alone. That doesn’t work. It’s working things through in community. It’s reaching to the one big enough to carry it all.
I’m still learning but I can recommend it.