A Youth Ministers Guide to Anxiety and Depression

A Christian Perspective on Mental Illness: Introduction

It feels quite fitting that I start a new treatment for depression, called rTMS (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – more about this treatment later) on Mental Health Awareness Week. I also ended up submitting an assignment on Friday which was the transcript of a Youth Group talk from last term. The topic? Yep, you guessed it – a look at mental illness in light of the Bible. I decided this was a talk I really wanted to edit for Breaking Stigma – I don’t think anyone would deny that there is still an incredible amount of stigma when it comes to mental illness in Australia and it can be even more misunderstood in churches.

This talk was delivered to a group of predominantly Christian high school students as part of a topical series. The bottom line for the series was that sin has broken and distorted our world, which has resulted in cultural, societal and interpersonal issues. We attempted to understand this distortion in light of the gospel. Mental illness is one of these issues. If you chose to follow this seven-part series, A Youth Minister’s Guide to Anxiety and Depression, please consider this context.

This first post will briefly address five common misconceptions about Mental Illness.

Mental illnesses aren’t just emotional, but physical.

Most mental illness occurs when chemicals, hormones and messages in the brain aren’t working how they’re supposed to and the brain is a part of the body. Many symptoms are also physical. Depression can make you feel sad, numb or overwhelmed, but it can also cause fatigue, sleeplessness, affect your appetite and cause muscle tension.

People with mental illness are not dangerous and psychotic, which means they’re losing touch with reality.

Mental illnesses are complex, and there are more types of illnesses than I can count. There are mental illnesses that cause psychosis, like schizophrenia and a type of Bipolar, but the most common types of mental illnesses are depression and anxiety – which I will be focusing on tonight. Neither of these have psychosis as a symptom and they rarely cause people to be dangerous.

Depression is not simply feeling sad all the time, and anxiety isn’t just worrying all the time.

These diagrams show the differences between feeling anxious and having anxiety and feeling depressed and having depression. Keep in mind that everyone is different, but these images visually represent what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety.

tumblr_nse031t8ii1u2o34to1_1280

8f244b3a3b9273e0e76ea7517106005eAnxiety is more than just worrying; it can include sweating, muscle tension, chest pain, increased heart rate, troubled sleep, second guessing yourself, over thinking and a battle between what you know is rational and the irrational anxiety.

Likewise, depression is far more than sadness, it also manifests in isolation, guilt, hopelessness, feeling anxious, self-hatred and a sense of nothing or numbness.

Mental illness is common.

1inr5

1 in 5

45

45%

In Australia, one in five people are experiencing a mental illness right now. Look at the image on the left and imagine each dot is a person, one in five of the dots are blue and they represent individuals who have a mental illness. But it doesn’t stop there, have a look at the image on the right. 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, so nearly half of us, by the time we die, will experience a mental illness.

Because it’s so common; it’s important for Christians to address mental illness and learn to understand it, so we can better communicate with and love others (as God commands us to do). Tonight, The Project on Channel 10 also briefly addressed how common and untreated mental illness is, especially among young people.  Make sure you check it out here!

Finally, ‘real’ Christians can suffer mental illness.

I believe this is false, as I love and follow Jesus and have had depression and anxiety since primary school. I have had the experience of Christians saying unhelpful things to me. I’ve been told my depression means I’m possessed by a demon and that I’m only depressed because I don’t have enough faith. Neither of these comments are helpful. They actually made me feel worse and encouraged me to isolate from God when I needed to draw closer to Him…

Mental illness is common, and I believe that the negative things depression and anxiety cause find their explanation in the Bible and answer in Jesus. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to use a few verses from the book of Romans to share five things that have encouraged me as a Christian living with chronic mental illness.

  1. The Bible offers us an explanation,
  2. Scripture helps us combat ‘stinking thinking,
  3. God has given us His Spirit and listens to us when we pray,
  4. Jesus has made promises that give us a true hope, and
  5. God has given Christians the beautiful gift of community.

If you continue to join me through this series, I hope you are
1) encouraged to show compassion, love and empathy to those you know and meet with Mental illness and
2) are encourage to draw nearer to the God who shows you unconditional compassion, love and empathy.

Study Time

When you find the perfect spot to write that assignment due on Friday 💕🌱✏ #thelovewellproject #studentlife #procrastinationqueen 👑 (at Mount Gravatt Lookout)

Aladdin #14

Musical #14 is #Aladdin in the Royal Box at Capitol Theratre! What a magical and enchanting show! It certainly lived up to the hype with the unbelievable sights and indescribable feelings! My first wish to see it a second time was answered by Genie Disney and I‘m looking forward to it’s visit to Brissy next year! Did the crazy talent, flying carpet, comedic characters, soaring heroes, famous love ballads, endless diamond skies, sets, lighting, dancing, singing, non-stop laughter, bromance, romance and sequence that took me to the the most glitzy and glamorous fictional city in the world make up for the shallow plot – yes, yes it did! Thank you @aladdininaus for a fantastic Arabian, laughter filled night! For 2 hours I was taken to a whole new world, a million miles away and the smiles didn’t stop for a second!

#ayearofmusicals #aladdininaus #arabiannights #awholenewworld #streetrat #Disney #aussietheatre #australiantheatre #threewishes #dreams

Spring Awakening #13

Musical #13 was Spring Awakening at UNSW! Ias stoked to see a guy from school who I haven’t seen in, like, 7 years doing his thing on stage. I don’t know how I went through all my years as an emo high schooler and young adult without this soundtrack in my life. All of the teen angst. The winning moment was Morris and Ilse’ “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” & had me teary. Overall I really, really enjoyed this creative and minimalist production, again, with a stellar cast. Oh, how I love Aussie Theatre!

#ayearofmusicals #springawakening #unswMusicalTheatreSociety #teenangst #aussietheatre #communitytheatre #musical theatre #purplesummer #thebitchofliving (at UNSW Musical Theatre Society – UNSW MTS)

Wicked #12

Musical #12 is Wicked and boy was I impressed!! The quality felt so close to the touring production 2 years ago. The leads were exceptional (AH! THOSE VOICES!!), the orchestra was on point & the set and costumes were amazing! There was no disappointed, only superseded expectations. A shout out to the dude in front of me who was also mouthing every single word with passion, sparking applause, in awe, before the songs even ended.

#ayearofmusicals #wicked #wickedimtc #musicaltheatre #amateurtheatreforthewin (at Ipswich Civic Centre)

It would be a great achievement, but we should drop the bumper-sticker promise to halve the number of suicides in 10 years

Leo D'Angelo Fisher

There’s something distasteful about politicians promising to halve the number of suicides in 10 years. That’s the commitment of the Victorian government. It’s also the policy that federal Labor leader Bill Shorten took to the electorate at this year’s election. But can it really be that simple? Can the tragic epidemic of suicide be solved as an equation? In just 10 years?

Despite the epic dimensions of the suicide crisis in Australia – each year 2000-plus Australians end their own lives – politicians have mostly looked the other way. But suicide has finally made it on to the political agenda, thanks to the tireless efforts of mental health activists.

It is just like politicians to reduce suicide to a mindless slogan, a mathematical fancy, oblivious to the agonising and very personal hell that each case of suicide represents. We cannot know what torment tears at the heart and mind of…

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‘Am I OK?’ today? Well, Life’s Slowed Down.

It is “R U OK? Day” today.

Am I okay? Yes. I think so. I will be.

Am I sad, overwhelmed, exhausted and ‘bleh’ with blood-shot eyes? Yes.

My Opa passed away today. It’s sad and I’m grieving. But I’m okay. The doctor assured us that his death was painless and peaceful.

He had a heart attack on Sunday (ironically, Fathers Day), which revealed he also had pneumonia and kidney failure. Opa could have had a few long, drawn out weeks where his body slowly shut down – but God was merciful. All his grandkids and children were able to see him the day before he passed. Then after only a couple of days in hospital, he fell asleep early this morning and never woke up. It wasn’t a sudden-shock, but was quick. In his words, yes, ‘he kicked the bucket’ (and one day we all will), but it was painless, peaceful, he knew he was loved and even got to have a beer on his last night. This is just the surface of how things seemed to ‘worked out for the best’ and I have witnessed and experienced God’s goodness, mercy and grace in a whole new way.

As a teenager, I watched a close family friend pass away and had a church brother pass away after a motorbike accident – but this is the first time I’ve experienced the death of a family member and it’s surreal. It has shocked me that as his world stopped, mine (and my family’s) slowed down while the world continues on, as it was yesterday and as it will tomorrow.

As my family I sat down with a cuppa (just after we said our final good-bye) and we were mincing our words – a fly on the wall would think we were talking jibberish. We kept dropping things and walking down the hallway, forgetting that we just needed to use the bathroom. Then mum and I finished our evening with a quick trip to coles to pick up some (much needed) cheese and milk. We came home with $30 worth of groceries, some cider, 2 parcels from the pharmacy, no cheese and the wrong kind of milk. Grief distracts you, tires you and takes up so much of your brain. Time feels like it’s gone so quickly and dragged on at the same time.

Mr Google told me that approximately 151,600 people have their world just ‘stop’ every day. If you estimate each individual has 4 people who love them, 606, 400 people have their lives slow down every single day – and grief can be overwhelming for days, weeks and months. At least 4.24 million people a week have their lives slow down because (approx.) 1 million lives stop. That’s a lot of grieving people, walking through the day, a little bit slower than the rest of the world, very distracted with a blend of apathy and sorrow.

And death isn’t the only cause of grief – people lose jobs, pets, marriages, their health and loved ones in other ways, every day. People can have their lives turn over and slowed down due to ill health, mental illness, medications, infertility, waiting for test results or simply receiving some bad, life changing news.

You never know what someone is feeling, experiencing, processing and suffering with as you encounter them. You don’t know what is going on for the ‘rude person’ who hardly notices knocking you off your feet in the street, for the friend who didn’t reply to your text, for the shop attendant who gives you the wrong change, or the driver who cuts you off on the highway.

Can I encourage you to show compassion, empathy and understanding to those you encounter? Give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe, their world has just slowed down. You just don’t know and the only way you will is if you ask.

So, you know how I am going today. What about you? R U OK?

Conversations With Healthy People #1: The Amusing, ‘Really?’

It’s days like today when I’m struggling to summon the energy to be a ‘functioning human being’ that I remember an honest and genuine conversation I had with one of my teenagers during Bible study a few months ago.

I recall this conversation to remind myself of God’s grace, strength and sustaining power that gets me through each day. It’s an encouragement to continue being honest about life, even when it’s painful and sucky. I must confess, it amuses me (greatly) and makes me giggle a little on the inside.

I also find comfort knowing that I can come back and read it whenever I need to.

We were discussing how God uses suffering to deepen our relationship with Him, better understand faith, build His Kingdom and bring Jesus glory. For the sake of application, I briefly mentioned that these truths give me hope, even though I am in pain every day…

…another interruption (but a welcomed one)…

“So, you’re really in pain?”
“Yes.”

“All the time?”
“Uh, huh.”

“You don’t look like you’re in pain.”
“I know.”

“Wait! You were in pain on Friday night?”
“Correct.”

“Are you saying that you’re actually in pain, right now?”
“You’ve got it.”

“…Like, now-now? Standing there?”
“Yup…”

and then he slumped back into his chair with a sympathetic bewilderment written on his face. I think he started to understand, which I am grateful for, even if it was just a little.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation, and it probably won’t be the last. So, I’ll continue to embrace the small opportunities to encourage open and honest dialogue. Conversations that develop empathy and grace to spur one another on to rely on God and persevere in suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.

2 Timothy 2:10 (NLT) “So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.”