On World Mental Health Day, podcast hosts Sarah and Bekah suggest how every Christian can play their part in providing good pastoral care for those who are struggling
Sarah, a primary school teacher and Bekah, a clinical psychologist, formed a deep friendship over holding honest conversations around mental health. These conversations turned into the ‘A Drop in the Bucket’ podcast, in which they use the analogy of a stress bucket to invite guests to speaks about what affects their mental health, and what helps them to cope and feel well.
As committed members of their local church, they are also passionate about ensuring that the Church is a place which promotes good mental health.
Here’s their top tips on how all churches can be a place where positive mental health is encouraged, and people who are experiencing poor mental health can be supported.
1. Foster a community which encourages learning and growth
Sarah: One of the things that the Church does really well – when it does it well – is creating community. It can be a family outside of your own family; a group of people that will show up for you when hard things are happening in your life.
Bekah: It should be a community where no one ever feels like they’re finished. The fact that people in our community are struggling with their mental health, and we don’t understand it, provides us with an opportunity to learn. Churches that don’t value learning and growth are really awful places to be, because you can walk through the door, not fit, and you are immediately back out that door.
Sarah: No one has their life sorted all the time, or fits this perfect box that people seem to think exists; humans are fundamentally messy. My fear is that the Church is not a place that welcomes mess. Beauty comes in the different pieces we can bring together and how we learn from each other, and I would love the Church to be a place that encourages and celebrates this. There are a lot of beautiful disruptions that will need to take place before we get there, and if we don’t always know how to handle a situation, it has to be OK to ask.
2. Do not attribute mental ill health to a failure of faith
Sarah: Katharine Welby-Roberts, Justin Welby’s daughter, who has herself experienced mental ill health once said: “There is still a prevalence in the Church of people believing that ill mental health is due to a lack of faith in God. If you do happen to agree with that, can I suggest you take a minute to reflect on it? Because you’re wrong.”
I truly believe in a God that heals. But he doesn’t always, and the implication present in a lot of Church teaching that if you have ill mental health it’s because of something you’ve done wrong – you haven’t prayed enough, or believed enough or been joyful enough – is so damaging.
Bekah: No one has ever gone to therapy to work out why they’re struggling and come out of it with a list of all the things they’ve done wrong. They come out with a better understanding of why things that have happened to them have hurt them so much, why they respond in certain ways to situations, and how they can take that forward.
My fear is that the Church is not a place that welcomes mess
Your spiritual wellbeing and your mental wellbeing can be in two very different places; you can have an incredibly strong, dedicated prayer life, know the joy of the Lord and still be mentally unwell, because they are two different dimensions.
Sarah: When I was experiencing depression, believing that I had a hope in Jesus didn’t change the fact that it still felt like an incredibly dark time. But I always knew God was with me, and as soon as my mental health became well through medication and therapy, having that extra hope in Jesus made a big difference.
3. Recognise that we all need to look after our mental health
Bekah: When I was training as a therapist, I saw the people who I wanted to help as other: I am going to help you because you are struggling and you are different to me. The more work I’ve done, the more I’ve realised that while there are plenty of life experiences I’ve not had, we are a lot more similar than we are different. It isn’t about some people struggling and some people being the helpers; we all have mental health that needs caring for.
As soon as my mental health became well through medication and therapy, having that extra hope in Jesus made a big difference
Church should mirror this reality, so that we’re not saying: “We will look after you and support you because you are a mess and we are here to help you.” We need to emphasise that there is a place for you here because you can contribute and teach; you are going to be valued the same as everybody else.
Sarah: That’s what we’ve tried to do with our podcast. It’s not just about telling the stories of people with diagnosed mental health conditions; we really want to hear from everybody: what fills their bucket with stress and what helps to empty it. If a church is looking after people and treating mental health with the same importance as it does physical health, then that is an incredible thing.
Sarah and Bekah were speaking to Logan Walker