This is mental health awareness week. It’s being flagged more this year because so many are suffering under lockdown. I know a lot about mental health from the inside. I began to suffer with depression when I was 19 and anxiety when I was 21. Like many sufferers I’ve spent a lot of time researching mental health to deal with my own issues. I’ve seen a counsellor, and I’ve participated in counselling courses in the hope that I can help someone else. It’s what we sufferers do. We become very good at empathising and discover that we can be a support to someone else.
One of the great prophets in the Bible, a man called Elijah, had a classic bout of depression. He’d just been involved in an amazing exhibition of God’s reality and power, but threatened with his life he ran away and wanted to die. The Bible says, “He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.””(1) From a massive high to a deep low. If you’ve ever been a sufferer you’ll understand.
David, the one who defeated Goliath, wrote a number of songs (Psalms) that show how much he understood depression. Songs like Psalm 69, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.”(2)
Jonah, swallowed by a sea monster, said something that I have always identified with depression. “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.”
Mental health problems exist and if some of God’s great men can suffer with them, then why not you?
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “This man claims to be a Christian and yet he suffers with depression and anxiety. What kind of faith is that? What kind of God allows him to suffer?” I can assure you it’s a very real faith, a 47 year old faith. Why wouldn’t God allow me to suffer? What’s special about me to make me immune? Becoming a Christian doesn’t take away suffering, but it helps you understand it, cope with it, and grow through it. It’s enabled me to carry on where others might give up, because I know the God who allows my suffering is the same God who loves me and gave His Son to die for me. Is there a greater love than that? My issues have never affected my walk with God. Rather they have given me an understanding of the kind of mental anguish Jesus himself endured when he once prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He told his disciples he was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”(4), and he prayed in agony. Anyone who’s suffered from depression can relate to what happened to Jesus. If that’s you, the suffering of Jesus was for you. If you turn to him in faith there’s no guarantee that he will take away your mental health problem, but he will enrich your life despite it, maybe even through it. I hate my depression and anxiety, but I can’t deny they have enabled me to empathise with, and help others.
(1) 1 Kings 19:4
(2) Psalm 69:1-3
(3) Jonah 2:2-6
(4) Matthew 26:38
(More advice and guidance available on The Mental Health Foundation website)