Natalie Williams reminds us that there is hope in Christ and practical help for those who need it – highlighting those with mental health issues who are living in poverty
The other day I was listening to an old song by Primal Scream that includes a lyric about feeling so desperate you think you might cry yourself blind. Not all of us have experienced that depth of anguish, but many have – and it can be especially hard to talk about as Christians.
It’s OK not to be OK
Depression, anxiety, stress, fear… Thankfully, these words are becoming less taboo, but it can still be incredibly difficult to reconcile our faith in Jesus with our mental health challenges. Yet in the Bible, lament is common. Grief is common. Great heroes of the faith, such as Moses and Elijah, felt such despair that they wanted to die.
I have battled with depression for many years. In many respects my life is full. I have wonderful friends, I love my work, I’m very loved in my church family and I’m very aware of how merciful and kind Jesus is to me. But I have been through a number of seasons of feeling so hopeless that I wasn’t sure I would make it through. I’m comforted not only by people in the Bible, but also by great men and women of God, such as Spurgeon, who said: “There are times when all our evidences get clouded and all our joys are fled” (The Silent Shades of Sorrow, Christian Heritage).
The poor are hardest hit
While mental health challenges can affect us all, they seem – like many things in life – to affect those trapped in poverty the most. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), poverty increases the risk of illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance addiction. This doesn’t just affect adults, but children, too. The Child Poverty Action Group website states that children growing up in relative poverty in the UK are four times more likely to develop mental health problems by the age of eleven.
Jubilee+ is seeing the impact of this at church-based social action projects across the country. Christians are on the front foot, supporting people with food parcels, debt advice, clothing and shelter, but we’re meeting more and more people who are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges caused or exacerbated by their poverty.
Offering hope and help
This is one of the reasons we need to offer hope as well as help. But we must be careful not to offer a false hope of: “Come to Jesus and all of your problems will disappear.” Jesus promised the opposite, in fact, telling us that we will have trouble. Yet we do have hope to offer; hope that there is a God who cares passionately and walks through valleys with us, never leaving or forsaking us. Hope that is an anchor for the soul. When storms are raging around and within us, the hope he offers holds steady.
This World Mental Health Day gives us an opportunity to be honest about our own struggles, but to also reflect on what gets us through and holds us firm. From that place, we can give ourselves to strengthening others – especially those whose financial hardship is affecting their mental health.
If you would like to support those in need with mental health issues, including reaching out to those around you, here are some ideas:
Pray Seriously, fervently and consistently lift someone up in prayer when they cannot do it for themselves.
Sit in silence Listen and be still in someone else’s pain. Simply being present without trying to ‘fix’ things can be very precious and will communicate someone’s worth to them more than offering advice.
Offer practical support Make meals or babysit while a parent sleeps or goes out for a walk.
Meet financial needs Talk it through so you don’t cause offence, but if someone would be grateful for a week’s shopping or a full tank of petrol, help where you can.
Donate to foodbanks, baby banks, debt centres and other social action ministries Give items, money, time and skills – whatever you have.