As in the US, the UK church struggles with, and sometimes ignore issues of mental health. But don’t Christians have a God-given responsibility to steward our own mental health and the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters?
By Will Van Der Hart, Christian Today
I am approached by a gifted young Christian leader at a conference where I am speaking. It is a conversation I have had hundreds of times in the 13 years since we started the Mind and Soul Foundation. Here is another passionate leader and brilliant communicator of the gospel who is becoming aware of the juxtaposition between his mental state and the message that he is delivering to others.
My empathy is rooted, in part, in the fact that I can see something of myself in the struggles of this young preacher. Having experienced a sudden and terrifying descent into Generalized Anxiety Disorder more than a decade ago, I know the sense of disbelief Christian leaders encounter when they realise they are not immune to the 1:4 statistic. (The prevalence of mental health issues among church leaders is at the higher end of this national average.)
While here in the UK it is often said we are experiencing an ‘epidemic’ of mental health problems, the reality is a little less dramatic. The fact is, due to some exceptional public awareness campaigns by Time to Change, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the general population is more aware of their mental wellbeing than they have ever been. The reduction in stigma means that more people are seeking treatment and this has led to a surge in medication prescriptions, particularly for mixed anxiety/depression which is the UK’s most prevalent mental health issue.
While much of what is called the Mental Health Awakening has to do with awareness, some issues are a rising concern. As the population lives longer, we are seeing older people experiencing mental illness, some related to loneliness.
Young people are also increasingly vulnerable in our society, and the UK has seen a rising trend of self-harm both inside and outside of the church. Manchester was recently dubbed “the self-harm capital of Europe”. Male suicide is also an issue of vast concern in the UK and is the biggest killer of men under 45 years of age.