It is estimated that only 41% of individuals who suffer with a mental health related issue in any given year actually seek help from a mental health professional. There are many reasons for such a low percentage of people seeking treatment, ranging from inadequate health care to not having transportation. But there are also some other very big reasons why people do not seek help for these very real issues. The most notable ones are fear of being labeled or of what others would think, a sense of shame or embarrassment, a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness, or simply denial that anything is even wrong. Much of the fear of seeking help has to do with the fact that there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
The fear of being labeled as “crazy” is a fear that is all too real in today’s Christian culture. Many of us, though strong in our faith, may not be so strong when it comes to worrying about what others think of us. So we simply go on with our lives, struggling in all sorts of ways, telling everyone that everything is fine, when in fact things are sometimes not fine. Mental health is a very challenging topic in the faith community. How can I tell someone in the church that I am depressed when Scripture tells me that I am supposed to rejoice in all things? How can I reveal to a fellow Christian that I can’t stop my mood swings, or lashing out in anger at my spouse and children when the Bible clearly tells me not to?
The issue of being honest about our mental health struggles is a difficult one to be sure. But when we are placing more emphasis on what people will think of us than we do in getting mentally healthy, we are giving into stigma. When we as Christians create a culture in which people are afraid to share what they are going through, no matter how uncomfortable, we are perpetuating that same stigma. Scripture tells in Galatians to “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” We are called to share our burdens with one another, no matter how difficult they may be to understand. When we keep our struggles to ourselves and try to just tough things out, we are doing the exact opposite of what Paul is instructing us to do. When we don’t embrace and support a fellow Christian who is experiencing a mental health issue, we are also doing the exact opposite of what we are being called to do. If you have ever spoken very openly about your mental illnesses, you already know it hasn’t been easy. While we all talk about “being vulnerable”, mental health struggles are an area where few of us have presented that vulnerability to others.
I encourage you that if you are struggling, please tell someone, whether it be your spouse, friend, or your pastor. If necessary, seek professional help, whether it is a primary care doctor or other professional. Just as importantly, if someone you love shares with you that they are struggling in this way, offer the help and support they need. We wouldn’t hesitate to seek help if we had cancer, diabetes, or even the flu. Let’s all look forward to the day that we are as open about our mental health struggles as we are with our physical ones.