Taking care of our mental health – Daily Press

The faces of those struggling with mental health are young and old. They are black, brown, white. They may be found isolated and withdrawn in their homes or hidden in a crowd. They are our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. They are in our schools, workplaces and faith communities.

The challenges of the past two years have brought the importance of good mental health to a whole new level of awareness. According to the World Health Organization, 450 million people are experiencing mental health disorders, and a recent study in the United States concludes that the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled during the pandemic.

Mental health is an essential part of our overall health. Positive mental health allows us to cope with the stresses of life, work productively and make meaningful contributions to our communities.

Unfortunately, the myths and misconceptions about mental health can often prevent people from getting the help they need. This is often true for people of faith who may be hesitant to seek help. May is National Mental Health Month, which gives us a good opportunity to reflect on some of these myths.

Ancient cultures believed that mental illness was attributed to possession by supernatural spirits. Torture was the treatment of choice. In biblical times, “madness” and “confusion of mind” were viewed as punishment for violating God’s commandments. In the Greco Roman world, mental illness was attributed to natural causes of “an imbalance of bodily humors.”

It is not difficult to challenge and dispute the misconceptions of the past. Thanks to education and research, we are now much more equipped to understand and treat mental health challenges, and yet there is more work to be done to eliminate myths and build understanding.

One prevalent myth today is the idea that mental health problems are a sign of weakness. In my work as a therapist, I have encountered individuals who believed that their anxiety was a sin and reflected a lack of trust in God. Likewise, some viewed depression as a sign that they were not strong enough in their faith.

In reality, mental health problems are not a sign of weakness. They are simply medical disorders that need treatment just like diabetes, cancer or a broken bone. As human beings, we are all vulnerable to mental health distress. In fact, research shows that one in five adults in the US experience mental illness each year. Genetics, life experience, family background and brain chemistry all contribute to mental health.

“I should be able to fix things on my own” is another common myth. As human beings, we are all susceptible to sickness and illness. While there is much to be said for strengths and resiliency, there are times when talking to a professional can be helpful. In some cases, medication can make a big difference. Accessing available resources reflects courage and a desire to live more fully. Remember that even Jesus used mud on the blind man’s eyes.

Finally, the idea that you only need to take care of your mental health if you have a mental health condition is another myth to be challenged. The truth is everyone can benefit from taking steps to improve their mental as well as physical health. Developing a self-care plan which includes developing supportive relationships, exercising and utilizing spiritual resources such as prayer and meditation, can make a big difference. Prevention is key.

Faith communities may consider hosting a Mental Health First Aid class to train members to learn how to best minister to people who face mental health issues and help them access the resources available to them to promote healing.

Of course, if the face of the one struggling with mental health is staring back at you in the mirror, remember there is hope for better days ahead. Take the first step towards wholeness and health today.

The Rev. Becky Evans Glass is Executive Director at Peninsula Pastoral Counseling Center in Newport News. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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