The irony of #BellLetsTalk is that there will be a lot of talking today but no real conversation, and we desperately need to have and continue to have a very real conversation about mental health.
So many people will text and retweet today, without narry a thought on assessing their own mental health or how they can help augment the mental health of others (not to mention intersectionality, but that deserves its own post).
I also think we are in a mental health crisis/epidemic. Just a few short days ago, another well-known pastor took his own life. For those who commute by subway on the TTC, you have heard and will no doubt hear in the days to come that there has been another “injury at track level” causing a delay in your commute.
Everyone has mental health. My experience, however, is that most people struggle with it at some point in their lives and don’t know or are too ashamed to say.
We often advise those who are struggling with their mental health to reach out for help, but the insidious thing about mental illness, particularly if you are living with depression, is that 1) you may not recognize you need help until it’s completely out of hand and 2) it stifles your ability to reach out and ask for help. You may not have the energy to ask for help and insofar as you have the energy, you may not even be able to access the resources (financial concerns and otherwise).
Most drowning incidents happen in plain sight – it’s just that the people around don’t recognize drowning when it happens or they are too distracted.
So let’s really talk about educating ourselves, looking out for one another, and how to do so in an increasingly individualistic and isolating social context. How can we pay more attention to one another? We all have a circle of influence. We can call. We can text. We can go out for coffee. We can pray. We can check in.
Throughout my life, and particularly over the past few months, I have been so thankful, so very viscerally thankful, for the friends who have checked in on me, who have taken me out for dinner, who have called me, who have texted me, who have prayed for me – who have taken it upon themselves to make sure that I do not drown. Sometimes I wonder how I made such good friends, because I’m not always a great friend myself, but I’m so glad for my support systems.
Not all of us have support systems, and even if we do, the truth is, many of us are too distracted by our own lives to lift our heads above our own parapet and check on others around us. How can we cultivate community – on and offline – so that we are so in tune with one another that we notice when someone is drowning?
We need to pay more attention to one another and ourselves. Less screen time, more downtime. More time for your brain to process and consolidate information and make connections between ideas and thoughts, but also being intentional about making connections with everyone we meet in our day to day lives.
The Holy Spirit has a way of putting people on my mind. I’m pretty sure He does that to many of you too. That is not an accident. When your mind runs on someone, pray for them. Call them. Go see them.
And in terms of individual responsibility, please take care of yourselves. Capitalism will tell you otherwise, but you don’t always have to be productive. If you find that there are days where the only thing you have accomplished is rest, that in itself, is a great accomplishment. That’s probably what you needed.
We now know that stress kills. Chronic, long term stress shows up somatically and makes us sick. There are no doubt a lot of conversations about stress management, but in my life, I’m aiming for stress avoidance. How can we manage stress that we cannot avoid, and avoid stress so that we will not have to worry about managing it later on?
On help: I’ve learned to always ask for it. Not only will you most likely find people willing to help, but you will also help keep your ego in check as you realize the limits of your self-sufficiency.
But when we tell people to find someone to talk to and reach out for help, we must also ensure that there will be people – heck, *we* will be there — to listen (and not necessarily advise, but listen without judgment).
Also, if you are struggling with your mental health (particularly anxiety and depression, which are often co-morbid), remember that it might not be “you.” Get your thyroid and all other hormones checked, particularly if you are a woman (and especially if you have PCOS or a thyroid disorder). And if you are on medication – hormonal or mental healthwise or otherwise, educate yourself about the side effects and check in with your doctor to make sure you are on the right dose.
Although I have worked and have training in mental health, I am not a mental health professional, and I do encourage everyone (regardless of the state of mental health) to seek one out. It’s good to talk to a neutral third party from time to time. It helps organize your thoughts and think about your thinking.
But if you are struggling, and if you wake up unwilling to face your life and wonder if life is worth living, what has helped me is to tell myself to “Give this day a chance.” Life is so unpredictable. You never know what may happen, and that regular, degular, smegular, ordinary day just might be the “one day” where everything turns around.
It’s helpful to recognize that living in 2019 is very hard, and modern life takes a toll on all of us. So if you are struggling, you are not weak — you are just very human. And the complexities and complicated nature of our lives today mean that we are faced with situations and problems previously unfathomable.
One of the most loving things someone has ever said to me is, “You don’t have to go through this alone.” My prayer is that someone will speak these words to you and that you will be this person for someone else.
We need one another. Let’s be intentional about doing life together.