“What I Learnt from the Mental Health Workshop…”

3 Jun 2019

Ros Chow attended the inaugural Mental Health Workshop, which was held in Goulburn in March 2019, and shares what she learnt from the workshop in this article…

The inaugural Mental Health Workshop was held in response to an increasing incidence of depression, anxiety and trauma in our society.

This workshop was a first step in raising awareness of the common types of mental health issues that can, and do, affect our brothers and sisters, and how we might be able to assist through fellowship, the ministering of God’s Word and with available health resources.

Pastor Bob Beverley opened the day, stating that “even sons and daughters of God can be affected by great and small mental challenges”. The possible causes of mental health issues were listed: physical, emotional and sexual trauma in early life; genetic disposition; consumerism & marketing; the fear of missing out (FOMO) generated by our social media culture, workplace stress, the failure to forgive, and loneliness. Other causes include financial burdens, lack of housing, and unemployment. “As people lose contact with community and the ways of the Lord, they can become more isolated, and mental health issues will rise.”

Jacqui Riggs, a registered psychologist, defined mental health as a state of mind and well-being in which a person realises their abilities, is able to contribute, and has the ability to respond to challenges of any sort and bounce back. Our state of mind can be affected positively by protective factors such as a supportive family, strong friendships and self-efficacy, and negatively by risk factors such as chronic illness and low socio-economic status.

Jacqui stated that 45% of people will have mental illness in their lifetime – commonly depression and/or anxiety. The various distinguishing emotional and behavioural features of both depression and anxiety were discussed. Depression and anxiety are considered a problem when they interfere significantly with the person’s day-to-day functioning. Commonly, when someone is depressed, they have persistent negative thoughts, feel hopeless, guilty or miserable most of the time, and tend to withdraw and isolate themselves. Anxiety can become a problem when there is excessive fear or worry and avoidance of situations that cause anxiety.

A combination of life stresses, chronic illness or pain, personal vulnerability and family history can combine to cause depression – and what can keep it cycling is the ensuing fatigue, hopelessness, negative thought patterns and behaviours, such as reducing rewarding activities and neglecting responsibility.

Causes of anxiety include: a family history of mental health issues, ongoing stressors, personality factors, physical health issues, and childhood traumas.

In the extreme, severe depression can lead to thoughts of suicide and self-harming behaviour. Jacqui also gave us a brief insight into suicide and self harming behaviours, later in the day.

Katy Moore talked openly and honestly about her 16-year battle with recurring bouts of severe depression, which started at age 15. (You can read Katy’s story here.) Her husband, Pete, also gave valuable insights and spoke about five things that helped in their situation, which were: going to God; keeping on with God and serving His people during the waiting period; having the humility to be honest and vulnerable to the brethren, and; how the love of God helped him to “get into the pit with Katie, rather than just calling out from the top of the pit”.

Pastor Michael Nagy drew our attention to, and summarised points from, brother Josh Miller’s talk titled “Dealing with Mental Health”, in which Josh shared his personal experience of depression and six strategies he found helpful. (You can listen to this talk here.)

The last session of the day was presented by Heidii Burgess who is a qualified youth and community services worker. Heidii gave us insight into the minds and world of teenagers – the social pressures that they deal with that can cause anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours. Heidii ‘s suggestions for how we can support our teens includes making eye contact to establish a connection, being talent scouts on the lookout for their individual skills, getting them involved by using their skills in the Lord’s work, and being an active listener. Heidii also shared a moving testimony of how the Lord helped her to mother her teenage daughter with grace instead of punishment, through what was a very trying time.

What to do if you suffer from anxiety or depression, or you care for someone who does?

Here are the main take home points from the day.

For the person with anxiety or depression or other problems:

  • there is no stigma in having a mental health issue
  • if it is impacting your daily life seek help
  • there is no shame in being emotionally authentic, the only shame is missing out on life
  • be honest and open about your difficulties with a trusted member of the church
  • preaching God’s Word to yourself is powerful against your mental strongholds, but there may also be a need to seek professional advice
  • medications can improve mood and your ability to function and thereby receive God’s Word
  • cognitive behavioural strategies help manage unhelpful thoughts and behaviors
  • count your blessings and be thankful
  • pray ‘in your closet’ (privately), pray with others, and trust God through the process
  • continue in fellowship to give you a sense of belonging and purpose
  • keep serving God and care for others – it changes your focus

For those caring for someone with depression and anxiety:

  • what you say and what the other person perceives may be different
  • be an active listener, and reflect back what you think the person said, and vice versa, to prevent misunderstandings
  • be empathetic and validate the person’s feelings even if you can’t understand why they are feeling that way
  • it is unhelpful to tell the person what they should do – instead ask what they want to do to move forward, and ask how you might help them
  • be unconditional in love, support and time – everyone is different in what helps
  • practical ways to help could be as simple as meeting for a cuppa or going for a walk
  • have prayer together and share scriptures, if this is accepted
  • uphold them in prayer, trust God and be patient, if prayer and the Word isn’t accepted

Resources and recordings

More information, including talks and resources from the Workshop, can be found here.

Help and guidance is available at the Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue, Lifeline, BRAVE for kids, and THIS WAY UP for adults. Help and guidance is also available from GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists, mental health nurses and social workers.

Ultimately, the way to healing and wholeness is to go to God and seek His wisdom.

Proverbs 4:20-22 KJV: 

My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, let us seek to be supportive and draw alongside those who may be struggling. Let the genuine unfeigned love of the Lord flow through us, and let’s ask the Lord for the words of life to speak, and seek guidance from His Word . Let us, through the spirit within, strive to connect with and look deeper into the hearts of our brethren, to see the hurts or past experiences that may have created strongholds in their minds. And may we work together to pull down these spiritual strongholds.

2 Corinthians 6:4,6 KJV:

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses… By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned

Ros Chow, Sydney