“I’m fine.”

This is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves and others when asked how we are doing. The stigma of mental health problems has always been a source of shame and humiliation—something that needs to be buried, denied, and sugar-coated. It has cost people their jobs, marriages, and social standing.

For pastors, church leaders, and their families, it has been a veritable kiss of death to admit that they are suffering from depression or any similar mental health concern. We understand being watchful of pastors with severe pathological disorders, but at the mention of depression or anxiety, a denominational task force sweeps down and packs the pastor off for evaluation and counseling. Very few pastors and leaders can return to any church after having “psych evaluation” stamped on their (or their family’s) charts.

Christians who fail the test of not having “enough faith” to overcome their problems are further faith-and-sin-shamed by their “brothers and sisters” in Christ. They are accused of harbouring some “secret” sin that has built a barrier too difficult to overcome between God and them. After witnessing others being humiliated, it’s no wonder that people are hesitant to admit they have a health problem and would prefer to suffer in silence than seek help.

You’re Not Alone

It is, therefore, refreshing and hopeful to read in The Guardian about Prince Harry being candid regarding his challenges following his mother’s death:

Mental health experts have praised Prince Harry for revealing that he sought counselling after 20 years of bottling up his grief over his mother’s death – and for speaking out so honestly about it. The prince said he had suppressed his emotions after losing his mother, Princess Diana, when he was 12. He took up boxing to help cope with feelings of aggression before finally seeking counselling.

Prince Harry adds:

“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief and all sorts of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle,” he said in an interview with the Telegraph.

It is encouraging to read:

Prince Harry speaking so candidly is a true turning point that shows that as a society we must no longer adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude and that we need to talk openly about mental health, something that affects us all directly.

Brad Pitt recently addressed the issue of mental health and the importance of seeking help.

Pitt shared how he has started to deal with the grief of his divorce from Angelina Jolie, from staying sober to recently starting therapy, and how joy remains an “elusive thing” for him.

“Personally, I can’t remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn’t boozing or had a spliff, or something. Something. And you realize that a lot of it is, um — cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I’m running from feelings,” he told the mag. “I’m really, really happy to be done with all of that. I mean, I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know — things I wasn’t dealing with. I was boozing too much. It’s just become a problem. And I’m really happy it’s been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I’ve got my feelings in my fingertips again.”

Potential Causes of Mental Health Problems

Mind for Better Health lists the following factors that could potentially trigger a period of poor mental health:

  • childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect
  • social isolation or loneliness
  • experiencing discrimination and stigma
  • the death of someone close to you
  • severe or long-term stress
  • unemployment or losing your job
  • social disadvantage, poverty or debt
  • homelessness or poor housing
  • caring for a family member or friend
  • a long-term physical health condition
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • domestic violence or other abuse as an adult
  • significant trauma as an adult, such as military combat, being involved in a serious accident or being the victim of a violent crime
  • physical causes – for example, a head injury or a condition such as epilepsy can have an impact on behaviour and mood (it is important to rule out causes such as this before seeking further treatment for a mental health problem)
  • genetic factors – researchers are currently investigating whether there might be a genetic cause of various mental health problems but there is no clear proof yet

And of course, divorce, financial difficulties (bankruptcy, stock market losses, foreclosures), addictions (pornography, alcohol, smoking, etc.), and illness all contribute to depression and anxiety.

Brad Hambrick on Overcoming Depression-Anxiety

In a poll on Twitter, we asked the following question: As a Christian, are you afraid that people would look down on/judge you if you opened up about your mental health problems? The predictable answer by the majority of those who took the survey is a resounding, but sad, Yes. Many Christians and churches have yet to move beyond treating those with mental health issues and addictions as pariahs.

As a help to those who need it but are afraid to ask, Theology Mix has asked  author/contributor Brad Hambrick to share his knowledge on how to overcome mental health challenges. Some things we will learn about anxiety-depression struggles are:

  • We may have intense periodic struggles that we continually brace against so we feel they are “always present.”
  • We may have several different anxiety-depression struggles that we lump together and give them a single name.
  • We may have adjusted to low-grade, background depression-anxiety struggle that we don’t “count” anymore.
  • We may intentionally try to ignore milder symptoms until they arrest our attention in peak moments.

Brad Hambrick advises, “If we are going to be effective in overcoming our experience of anxiety-depression, we will need to be accurate in our assessment of when it occurs and the fluctuation in its intensity. It is an unwise general who goes to war against an adversary he does not know well.

No two experiences of depression-anxiety are the same. This is partly because every person is unique. But the differences in experience go beyond personality and life history. It is not just that each individual who experiences depression-anxiety is unique, which is true, but also that each anxious-depressive experience is itself unique.”

If you are currently going through a valley of darkness, you are not an anomaly to an otherwise healthy, vibrant community of faith or to society. There are many who are suffering from depression and anxiety, who aren’t sure how they will get through not just another day, but another minute—but who can’t bring themselves to admit their problem for fear of being stigmatized.

You don’t have to be one of them.

Many thanks to Brad Hambrick for his willingness to reach out and help.

Overcoming Depression-Anxiety Series

  1. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: Depression-Anxiety Daily Symptom Chart
  2. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 7 Areas of Life Affected by Depression-Anxiety
  3. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: How Does Family History Impact Anxiety-Depression?
  4. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 12 Ways Depression-Anxiety Impacts Family and Relationships
  5. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 7 Factors that Contribute to the Impact of Depression-Anxiety
  6. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 6 Changes in Lifestyle that Add to the Impact of Depression-Anxiety
  7. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 10 Types of Thinking that Undergird Depression-Anxiety
  8. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: Differentiating Mourning from Wallowing in Depression-Anxiety
  9. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: When Is Depression-Anxiety Sinful?
  10. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: Who and Where Is God in My Depression-Anxiety?
  11. Overcoming Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 2 Ways of Measuring Progress with Depression-Anxiety
  12. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 20 Approaches to Battling Depression-Anxiety as Suffering
  13. Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: 6 Steps to Wise Decision Making About Psychotropic Medications