2022 was a tough year for many, says Sharon Hastings. As a Christian who lives with schizoaffective disorder, here’s her top tips for managing mental health well this new year
As a new year begins, I’ve been reflecting on the 12 months we’ve all just survived.
Even with the worst of the pandemic seemingly behind us in the UK, 2022 was undoubtedly a difficult year for many.
In January 2022, 1.54 million people were in contact with mental health services and, as the year continued, the trend in numbers referred has been upwards.
Here are five things that 2022 taught me about mental health:
1. You can never be complacent
Whether you suffer from anxiety, depression or – like me – psychotic illness, you may experience periods of remission when you feel stable and well. This is great, but it’s important to be vigilant. Complacency could cause you to miss early warning signs – and, along with it, the vital opportunity to prevent a relapse. Recovery is a non-linear process. None of us are invincible, and an awareness of subtle changes in stress levels or mood can be helpful in sustaining progress.
2. Wellness tools only work if you use them
If you’ve had contact with mental health services, you may have been introduced to wellness tools such as mood monitoring apps or the “Wellness-Recovery Action Plan”. There is good evidence that these tools are effective; however, they require a level of commitment. With everyday activities returning to normal post-pandemic, many of us are busy – and when we’re busy, it’s easy to neglect the tools we should be using. We shouldn’t be surprised if this results in declining mental health.
3. Even people who love what they do burn out
Do you love your job? Perhaps you are a creative, a strategist, a nurse, or a pastor. You may feel that you flourish in what you do, and that it benefits your mental health. That’s brilliant, but it’s still important to strike a balance in life. If we don’t, we can find ourselves feeling run down - and running out of new ideas. We all need time away from our work to replenish our mental and spiritual reserves. Rest is an investment in our future wellness.
4. There is no one-size-fits-all approach
Regardless of vigilance, wellness tools and seeking balance, mental health sometimes deteriorates. It happened to me, and several others I know, in 2022. In these circumstances, we long for a panacea but, unfortunately, that isn’t often available. Each of us has unique brain chemistry, so even a tried-and-tested drug may not always work. It’s tough, but see it as an opportunity to practise patience…and don’t lose hope. A solution can almost always be found in time.
5. Mental illness can make us question God…and that provides an opportunity to grow
2022 raised enormous questions for many of us, both personal and universal. Perhaps you’ve been asking why God would let you sink back into the darkness of mental illness? Or how an all-powerful God could allow evil to prevail in so many situations across the globe?
God doesn’t offer easy answers, but his word encourages us to cry out to him when we are hurting or see injustices at work. As we do, we often find deep heart-wounds knitting together and a sense of his sovereignty over a suffering world.
Hope for 2023
With these lessons in mind, I’m starting out a little differently in 2023. Perhaps they will inspire you to do so too.
Could you resolve to approach this year with your eyes open, keeping an awareness of your thought patterns, emotions, and moods? Could you re-commit to using the tools health professionals have suggested for you? Or to establishing new rhythms of work and rest? Perhaps you’ll be patient with doctors as they seek to optimise your medication regimen. Or resolve to bring your questions before God with new expectancy and hope.
God doesn’t offer easy answers, but his word encourages us to cry out to him when we are hurting
Perhaps this new year you are filled with a sense of opportunity…or you might already be feeling stuck in a bad place where it seems futile to consider change. However your mental health is right now, know that God can meet you at your point of need. I’m looking to him in 2023, and today I invite you to join me.
May we know true hope that recovery – forging a life that is worth living even in the context of ongoing mental ill-health – is possible. And that God offers us grace for the journey.