We now live in a society where talking about mental health is a lot easier than it was. Increasingly we are seeing celebrities and even members of the Royal Family talking about times when they’ve experienced suffering, pain, or distress. People no longer need to fear being immediately locked away if they disclose a mental health issue. We have made a lot of progress.
That said, the stigma is very real and still exists. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people will, at some point, directly experience a mental health problem; yet there are still cultures and parts of even our own society in which talking about mental health is deemed controversial or taboo. Being a Sinhalese student, I know that there is a lack of even a concept of mental illness within my culture and in South Asia more generally.
Such issues are not only cultural though. Sadly, sometimes it can feel contradictory to say you are a Christian who has, for example, depression. We’ve heard the Good News, so shouldn’t we be full of joy and hope and spreading that? If only life were that straightforward… Christians who have mental health problems can often be met with unhelpful stock phrases about “having more faith” or “praying more/harder”. At worst, it may even be suggested that illness is a repercussion of sin (whether one’s own or someone else’s). Such responses only serve to increase the guilt and confusion that a Christian with mental illness may be feeling, despite being theologically unsound and plainly not true!
In my journey as a Catholic with schizoaffective disorder, I have had many mixed feelings about my faith. Sometimes I’ve felt so battered by everything that I wonder how or whether I have any faith left at all. I muse on Jesus’ words from the Cross, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and find myself wondering the same thing.
Despite 8 years of psychosis, my faith – though fraught at times – remains with me and has been an anchor through the turbulent times. This is no doubt thanks to the help of many wonderful Christian friends and penfriends spread across the world, who are constantly praying for me. They may not always know what to say, and that’s OK – sometimes there are no words to be had. But I am a huge believer in the power of prayer and know that their prayers have kept me safe from harm. So, if you’re ever wondering how to help a Christian friend battling their mental health, never underestimate the power of your prayers, and letting them know you are praying with or for them. Equally, if you yourself are a Christian struggling with any type of mental health issue know that you're not alone, you're not a failing or lesser Christian because of it, and it's not your fault. I implore you to reach out to a friend, family member or trusted person today to start the conversation about your mental health and receive the support that you need.
Written by Shanika Ranasinghe, a Roman Catholic member of SCM studying for PhD in music at Royal Holloway, University of London.
You can find out more about Time to Talk Day 2018 here.