Author Rachael Newham explains the Christians often miss the Bible out of conversations on mental health, and explains that it has to stop.
Last week was a day dedicated to the Time to Change campaign. It aimed to get people to have conversations about mental health in their homes, workplaces neighbourhoods.
Since it began, alongside other awareness raising work, I believe there has been a shift in the conversation about mental health. Where once the phrase was only uttered by medical professionals, it’s now common parlance everywhere from parliament to the local park. I’ve been refelcting on the day and I think, for Christians, there is something we always miss out of conversations on mental health. The Bible.
How often do we include scripture in our conversations about mental health and mental illness? Because, while it’s true that the phrases “mental health” and “mental illness” aren’t in the Bible; we do see the concept threaded throughout from Genesis to Revelation through the concept of shalom.
There is something we always miss out of conversations on mental health. The Bible.
Shalom is often translated as simple “peace|” but the reality is richer, deeper and broader than that. Shalom is described by theologian John Wilkinson as: “Wholeness, completeness and wellbeing… It does, however, have several second meanings encompassing health, security, friendship, prosperity, justice, righteousness and salvation.”
What’s most beautiful is that these characteristics align with our psychological view of what mental health is - charity Mind talk about five ways to wellbeing which are; connecting with others, being active, taking notice (being mindful), learning and giving - all of which are reflected in the concepts of health, friendship and security that Wilkinson highlights.
In Genesis we see that God cultivates an environment for humanity to flourish - and that includes their wellbeing. From safety of Eden’s boundaries, to the friendship Adam and Eve shared with one another and with God, to the way in which scripture describes the creation of trees which were “pleasing to the eye and good for food”. The Garden of Eden was a place in which shalom was enjoyed in it’s fullness.
Charity Mind talk about five ways to wellbeing which are; connecting with others, being active, taking notice (being mindful), learning and giving.
We know, however, that Adam and Eve were not permitted to stay in the sanctuary of the Garden of Eden - and yet even when they left God clothed their nakedness - taking care of them and providing for them even though that had to leave the closeness of his presence.
What follows is the story of humanity trying to find their way back home to God - before Jesus arrives; as John 1 recounts: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Through it he experienced the whole spectrum of human emotions from anger at the state of the Temple, joy at a wedding and the anguish of Maundy Thursday, Jesus came to be “God with us” - and the Spirit sent to be our helper with “groans to deep for words” (Romans 8.26) until we are finally reunited with God forever when there will be no more tears or pain (Revelation 21:4).
Mental health - and God’s care for our mental health is throughout scripture - so it’s time for us to talk about it.
If you’d like to know more - head to http://www.kintsugihope.com/theologyofmh to read the whole paper.