Written by Rhonda Alstott

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

 It seems that we’ve turned the corner with the pandemic, but not without battle scars from the past 15 months. Anyone trying to find mental health services  for a loved one right now will tell you there is a shortage of services and the wait for professional help in the form of therapy can be as long as 6 months. May is mental health awareness month, and mental health advocacy has always been close to my heart. Tony and I have several loved ones that have had their share of struggles with it. In our family of seven Alstott’s, five of us suffer with depression and/or anxiety and the other two suffer with denial. You can sense my sarcasm, but everyone has mental health struggles. Just like our physical health where we can manage certain maladies like diabetes, asthma, and cancer, we all have mental health as well, where we suffer with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.  I like to think of mental health as a continuum: healthy being on one end and unhealthy being on the other. Several factors can affect which end of this continuum we find ourselves at during different periods of our life…a loss of a loved one, a promotion, marriage, divorce, finals…you get the picture…our circumstances can move us back and forth on this continuum. It’s fluid. Exercise, therapy, medicine, spiritual disciplines and support systems can help us live on the healthy end of this spectrum. 

I just finished the last lesson of Elijah by Priscilla Shirer with my Women’s Bible Study. Elijah is heralded as a strong prophet and leader, but I wondered how Priscilla would handle Elijah when he was at his lowest point: after defeating the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. She included this part of his story in her study and I am thankful she did. So often in Christianity we leave no room for mental health issues. We have plenty of examples in scripture that show us that mighty people of God had their share of struggles with mental health as well. In 1 Kings 19:4 we see Elijah asking God to take his life. If I was writing a presenting problem on a treatment note for Elijah, I would write suicide ideation. What got him to this point? It’s a list of reasons including work exhaustion, poor diet, over concern of what someone thought, lack of sleep and threats on his life that induced fear. Fortunate for Elijah, God sent an angel to minister to him. Food, sleep, and a plan going forward was part of Elijah’s treatment plan. God was able to start Elijah’s healing with the question, “What are you doing here?” I love how God provides us with examples we can not only relate to but learn from. When we find ourselves at the end of our rope, that’s a great question we can all ask ourselves…What are we doing here? Sometimes in answering that question, we find ourselves getting back onto the path of healing and wholeness. If we can’t answer that question on our own, it’s okay to get the right help to do so. For far too long, the church has shunned systems to help us in the area of help and healing of our mind. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that prayer, worship, serving and study can all help my mental health, but so does therapy, support groups and medicine. Sometimes it takes all of the above to keep us on the healthy side. 

How can we help and encourage one another in our faith journey? Show compassion. Listen, love, set boundaries, offer grace… pray with, go with…whatever can help that person answer the question “What am I doing here?”  Remember: just because you may not understand their struggle, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Also, just because you found relief from reading a book, a certain oil, pulling yourself up from the bootstraps, or prayer doesn’t mean it will work the same way for someone else. I have had countless friends and loved ones feel so abandoned by God because they prayed and prayed for relief and found none. Sometimes God answers our prayers by sending us to the right doctor or therapist. It is important to remember that just because you do not sense or feel the love and presence of God, does not mean He isn’t there.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Another thing to remember too: Elijah’s despair didn’t disqualify him for the work God needed him to do. Elijah is our example that God really isn’t finished with us, even when we are finished with ourselves. God has a plan and purpose for every one of us, and a bout on the unhealthy side of our mental health continuum does not change God’s plan. In fact, more often than not, He will use this time for the good of His kingdom in ways we never imagined.  My hope and prayer for all of us is that we live balanced lives that honor God. Balance that takes into consideration that we are heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). Hopefully, the realization that God wants to use us to further His kingdom, in spite of and despite our struggles with mental health, should help us put aside the stigma we’ve carried for too long around mental health issues. May God grant us all His shalom on our lives and on the lives of those we love.

*Interested in some other people in scripture that had their share of discouragement? Note the following:

Jonah (Jonah 4)                        Hagar (Genesis 16)

Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20)            David (2 Samuel 12/Psalm 38)

Gideon (Judges 6 & 7)              Paul (2 Corinthian 1)