Not In Kansas Anymore
Amidst the pandemic of COVID-19, it isn’t news that the mental health of many has suffered. For those of us in the tradition of gathering in the church, it has been a struggle in many ways. We are in unfamiliar territory, as if we were Dorothy transported to the land of Oz.
But what about getting back home, to church?
Whether your church took a reserved approach during 2020 with remote online services and virtual gatherings, or continued to meet in-person despite local jurisdictions’ mandates, church has not been the same. Not only has our routine to meet to worship and fellowship in person been unexpectedly interrupted, our minds have been strained.
The introduction of this new virus put unprecedented pressure on our minds to stay isolated to try to “flatten the curve” as the world health officials encouraged. All of the media voices concertedly stoking fear came at the cost of mental health because of socially isolating and suffering “alone together.”
During these times, the consequences of our choices haven’t always been straightforward, predictable, or easy to handle. We can probably agree, there hasn’t been much of anything “easy” about how to respond to the pandemic.
If anything, we’ve all had to reorient and adjust to the changes, akin to how Dorothy had to adjust to Technicolor!
Something Like a Twister
COVID-19 put the burden on each of our plates individually and corporately to make those choices to either meet together or stay home and isolate. Most of us stayed home, I believe, to the detriment of our mental health and the church’s wellbeing.
The question of how to respond as the body of Christ has not been easy to answer.
Many have returned to the sanctuary in the past few months as mandates loosened only to find an emptier, sparser congregation, or be the victim of the virus like my family and I were in January 2021.
While our own church stayed open for in-person services throughout the pandemic, many parishioners did not mask up. As a result, even though my family wore masks, we came down with the Coronavirus. Thankfully, we survived. I had a mild case of symptoms of slight congestion and loss of sense of smell and flavor. Nothing over-the-counter medicine couldn’t handle.
However, for all of us yearning to return to our church families, normal has left the building.
Don’t Forget Who Has The Answers
No matter how confusing, intimidating, infuriating, stressful, or risky these times have been, let’s remind ourselves of what has not changed.
There remains the constant, never-changing goodness of the one we gather for — God. His sovereign nature is to shepherd His sheep as He leads us through the valley of the shadow, into green pastures.
If we should follow our Good Shepherd who calls each of us by name, we will find ourselves where the Bible promises us: anointed by God, who prepares a feast for us in the presence of our enemies.
Since “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV), let us employ that manifestation in our gatherings.
In doing so, we should see that the church will rise to worship her groom, Christ, “to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word” (Ephesians 5:26, NLT).
When we continue to walk in the ways He is leading – together — we will find healing. The healing that comes from a spirit of unity, love, and peace between God and His children.
Can any of us be careful enough around a pandemic’s invisible virus that God foreknew would take many frail and vulnerable lives?
Neither our cautious efforts, nor the virus, can diminish or dissolve God’s goodness and mercy.
God remains the same, even though it would figure that such a strategy would be the Enemy’s attempt to steal the power of our gatherings and the ability to experience God’s omnipotent presence.
“You Always Had the Power My Dear, You Just Had To Learn It for Yourself”
-Glinda the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz
Similar to Dorothy asking Glinda how she could have gone home all along, frankly, we as the church could have gone home all along. But for many of us, this tornado of a pandemic threw us for a loop and we became bewildered. It’s as if the CDC recently declared like Glinda, “You always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
Let’s guard our minds against the fear of gathering in person when there is so much at stake. If “nothing can wholly replace the benefits of positive human touch,” as this article explains, then we are sorely in need of some long overdue contact. We are struggling alone at home, and even in the fabricated ways we try to connect as we do like in video calls and social media.
If anything, the church needs to return to fellowship and share our burdens with one another in the spirit of Christ – who suffered and yet “He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NLT).
Jesus risked his life touching lepers, healing the sick, delivering those serious about his call to the kingdom at hand. If the shadow of Paul could heal, what would keep us from the power of God by fellowshipping in person?
God clearly mandates his family to meet together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
Fortunately, we can gather safely, guarding against the spread of infectious diseases by
wearing masks, physically distancing, spacing pews farther apart. Most churches provide hand sanitizers and sinks with soap and water. If you want, you can get a vaccine.
In moving forward into the freedom of God’s healing presence at church, I encourage us to remember and apply the following thoughts:
- Let us not be ignorant of our Enemy’s schemes to “steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10)
- Let us not forget our First Love, as the reason we gather together as the church (Revelation 2:4)
- Let us gather to worship, and we will find we are stronger together (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
- Let us not be short-sighted: if we die, we die; our security and peace of mind is ultimately locked up in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 1:21)
May God lead you back to your church family in a safe way and may you return to a healthy state of mind in the spirit of Christ’s peace. After, all, there’s no place like church.
About the author:
Hey there! I’m Katie Dale, familiar with the storms of mental illness, and I blog about my faith and how it has informed my brain-based disorder at BipolarBrave.com. I also have a memoir out about my journeys through the psych wards and how I found peace of mind with psych meds (by the grace of God) – you can find it on Amazon here. Since my former profession of case manager at a behavioral clinic, I’ve stepped into the role of stay-at-home mommy to Kylie. And I get to travel the world with Chris, my man in uniform. Aside from that, I could live off mac ‘n cheese, and I still hold onto my aspiration to run a sub-20-minute 5k. Come find me and say hi on social media @KatieRDale. Stay bold, brave, and real.
Our current view of the church in our world of post-Christian culture may be one of dismay. After all, church attendance in the last 40+ years has dropped by 10% . Let alone the past year of the pandemic – a world-wide threat to the global church in 2020 and beyond.
However, churches that are to survive and thrive will recognize it takes more than abiding by the status quo. To cultivate a healthy community of members, especially at a time like this, our churches need to be encouraged on a personal level.
How Does the Message of Hope Get Across?
Some may think the leadership team is responsible for cultivating the health of their church, which is true in many ways. However, it takes a vision embraced by the entire church – from pastorate to parishioner – to grow in meaning, purpose, and hope.
Capturing this kind of focus on even the least of these (those with severe mental illness or mental health conditions, young and old), may be challenging if leadership cannot engage on their level.
Which is why every church needs to address purpose in their individual members, before they can see a hopeful future realized.
The needs of the church are quite discouraging if you’re not prepared or equipped to provide help for them.
To successfully instill purpose in individual members, leadership must be trained on meeting those basic needs “the least of these” are hurting for.
This is where the communication and focus on mental health can be instrumental in catapulting your church’s overall health and wellbeing forward into a hopeful promising outlook.
A Quick Review of the Church’s Influence in History
The church has been known for many generations, in fact centuries, and one may argue millennia, for the healing role in this world to meet physical needs. A glance through history will tell you the story of the church’s influence in the world’s spheres of science, art, politics, and medicine.
Medicine, however, has been the church’s main approach to the physical health of those it has ministered to. Since the last century, where technology in science and pharmacology and psychology has advanced, there are discoveries in this field that have begged the question:
where is God in mental illness?
And so, enter the church’s response to mental health and wellness. Where has that been? Unfortunately, not on the radar, let alone on the frontlines.
Until now. Now the church is awakening to the cries and light God has graciously shone on the final frontier of the arguably most vital organ: the brain.
Knowing what the world of science, medicine and pharmacology knows about mental illness, the church can benefit tremendously. If properly and vastly equipped, soon the church can be a lighthouse for the mentally ill in ways no faithless, secular organization or industry can be.
The good news: this is already happening.
Out of churches and church-bred faith-based organizations like Fresh Hope, Grace Alliance and various other grassroots efforts for support groups based on Biblical principles, a movement has been stirring.
This is the answer to many lost and saved churchgoers’ mental duress.
This is growing hope for coping with the pandemic.
Realistic solutions are here to address the mind’s disorders.
Recovery and healing can be found in community and support, established by the church.
This is the answer that the secular brain disease advocacy organizations aren’t going to acknowledge, or believe.
But because of this hope, hope found in Christ, the church is already at an advantage.
Already, the support group Fresh Hope for Mental Health cites numbers that are astonishingly encouraging and hopeful:
- 96% of weekly participants attribute their participation as the reason they now feel more hopeful than prior to their participation in Fresh Hope
- 92% who have attended other mental health support groups say that Fresh Hope has been more positive and helpful in their recovery than any previous groups
- 86% of those who were suicidal prior to coming to Fresh Hope report that they have not been suicidal since participating
- 88% say that Fresh Hope has been extremely important in their recovery
- 71% who have been hospitalized prior to attending Fresh Hope have had no returns to hospitals since attending the support groups
As sure as the church has been the body of Jesus for the last 2,000 years, it will continue to serve His hurting body and the minds therein. The path to wholeness is not just through ministries and programs. As we see, programs and ministries to serve the church are blessings and excellent purposeful activities within the church.
But take it a step further, and deeper, and the same kind of idea – worship through service to others hurting – will propel the church as a forerunner to contend in the battle of suicidality amidst salvation.
To learn more about starting a support group in your church or community, check out these resources:
- Fresh Hope for Mental Health support groups, founded by peer and pastor Brad Hoefs
- Grace Alliance support groups
- Fellow sufferer and former pastor, Tony Roberts’ book When Despair Meets Delight
- Pastor’s daughter and advocate Amy Simpson’s book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission
- Dr. Steven Grcevich’s book Mental Health and the Church
- Co-sufferer, counselor, and clergyman Ryan Casey Waller’s book Depression, Anxiety and Other Things We Don’t Talk About
About Katie R. Dale: Raised in a Christian home, mental illness wasn’t mentioned until after it reared its ugly head when had turned 16. Instead of a sweet 16 year, it turned out to be a bitter taste of our fallen nature as I became diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I with psychotic features. Now a caseworker and mental health advocate, I’ve written my memoir chronicling the journey through the psych wards, and blog regularly about my lessons on life, faith and mental illness at BipolarBrave.com. You can reach me on social media using handle @KatieRDale or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest Blog By Ralph Macey
People become disheartened, irritable, or tired and experience issues with a good night’s sleep when they face severe emotional turmoil. These are some of the common reactions of human beings when they are going through stress, anxiety, or mostly…depression issues within a few days.
Lots of men struggle with depression throughout their lives which may harm their normal life cycle in many ways. Men may have a greater tendency to feel anger, show aggressiveness, and engage in substance abuse, compared to women.
Most men hesitate to discuss their feelings or seek help for depression. This is because men believe that depression is an emotional sign of weakness or a failing of masculinity. That’s why discussing this weakness can make them weaker. As a result, their depression gets worse with time.
Both men and women may experience severe depression issues, but the signs and symptoms in both cases can be much different.
Depression can affect millions of men all over the world, of all ages and cultures. But one thing we must also consider is that not only the men but people around them are also getting affected. For loved ones such as spouses, kids, parents, friends, and other family members, neighbors, everyone’s life is more or less faces an impact.
When men are having depression, sudden changes might be seen in their thinking, feelings, and functions in their daily life. Those rapid changes may also affect their productivity at the workplace or schools and harm their relationships, sleep habits, diet, and overall lifestyle. Severe depression can be intense and may cause physical and mental damage.
Men suffering from depression can harm themselves mortally and the count is four times more than women. So, it is necessary that men should take help regarding depression before it is too late. They should discuss their issues honestly with a friend, or a doctor and clearly open up about what’s going on in their mind, along with their body. For a perfect diagnosis, the signs and symptoms should be carefully noticed in the patient.
Signs and symptoms
Depression signs and symptoms are much different in men compared to women. Men sometimes use different coping skills just as women do. Normally men show different signs and symptoms while experiencing depression, due to their brain chemistry, hormones, and life experiences.
Practically, men may show the following symptoms of depression:
● Sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
● Feel extremely tired
● Insomnia or sleeping too much
● Less interest in regular activities.
● Lack of concentration
● Tightness in the chest
● Joint, limb, or back pain
● Digestive problems
Apart from these symptoms, there are a few behavioral signs that may be considered depression in men:
● Spending too much time alone.
● Spending a lot more time at work.
● Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, and pain
● Losing interest in sex and experiencing sexual issues
● Avoiding family or social situations
● Taking unnecessary risks while driving
● Drinking more or taking drugs.
● Controlling, violent or abusive behavior
● Attempting suicide
As per the experts, there might be multiple reasons for depression in men such as Biological, psychological, and social. Apart from that lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills also play a serious part in this issue.
So, men who suffer from severe depression, might encounter the following triggers or risk factors that make the situation worse:
● Loneliness and lack of social support
● Early childhood trauma or abuse
● Anxiety and stress
● A past record of alcohol consumption or substance abuse
● Having a divorce, job loss, or bereavement
● Having serious physical health problems
● Family history of depression or other mental health issues
● Experiencing sexual dysfunction
- Some unique lifestyle changes and coping strategies can help men to manage depression to a certain level.
- Creating a daily routine and maintaining it may help a person to avoid all the hassle every day.
- Speed walking or running can help to produce endorphins which can boost a person’s mood and heal depression.
- If big tasks look unmanageable and confusing, people may divide them into smaller tasks. It will help them to achieve their goal and remove depression.
- Meditation and yoga may help a lot to reduce stress and support well-being. As a result, the sense of depressiveness will be reduced.
- Connecting to your dear ones, sharing feelings with friends, may make people feel less overwhelmed. As much as people keep away from loneliness, the depressive mood will also recover faster.
- Reducing alcohol intake can boost mood. Apart from that, it will also keep the body toxin-free and healthy.
- Have a pet and start taking care of it. The sense of responsibility sometimes removes stress and boosts your concentration.
- Get on a better sleep schedule by learning healthy sleep habits. At Least 7 to 8 hours of sleep can help to charge the mood and reduce depression.
- Spending time in nature may also boost the mind and bring positivity.
- Think twice before making important decisions, such as shifting jobs, until you get over with depression symptoms.
Connect with God
It’s important to convey the message to the men who are suffering from depression that – if you believe in god, know the fact that He comes close to those who suffer. So keep your eyes open for Him.
Believe the truth that the almighty God is not silent when people suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children can find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
In your darkest days, you may follow the guidelines of the Bible. Here are a few suggestions for Bible passages that you may find helpful.
● Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14.
● Depression could make you weak and easy prey for Satan’s. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
● Know about persevering and enduring. Read on (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)
● Read Hebrews 11 and 12. You’ll know that many before you have walked this path and they will assure you that God did not fail them.
● Know your purpose for being a human. Read (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
● Use Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 as your personal prayers to God.
Author Bio: Ralph Macey, a professional writer since 2008 and medical health/patient care coordinator at savantcare.com since 2014, writes articles on all mental health-related subjects. He holds a degree and two professional certifications in his field and continues to upgrade his knowledge with additional classes and seminars. He has provided mental health consultations and private fitness instructions for free in his local community. To connect with him, go to his Facebook or follow him on Twitter.