By Gracie Rymel
As someone who has grown up in the Church and struggles with mental illness, I can tell you that it has not always been easy to talk about.
We have been taught to enter the Church doors with a smile on our face and pretend that everything is okay. It seems ironic to me that we are supposed to bring our heavy burdens to the altar but, oh wait, did you say anxiety or thoughts of suicide? I wonder what would happen if the Church started treating mental health as important as physical health? How much more willing people would be to share their brokenness.
Mental illness is something that leaves you feeling very isolated and alone, no matter how much support you have from others. Anxiety can convince your brain that you don’t have any friends, you are not loved, and that you are too much of a burden.
Trust me, I have felt that way plenty of times.
While it may be difficult to understand, there is so much power in presence and the act of simply just being there. We, as the Christian community, are called to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the case may be. No exceptions.
This may be hard to hear but sometimes prayer just isn’t enough. While prayer can offer peace and comfort during a very difficult time, it is not going to fix or make it better. That would be like saying, “If we just pray hard enough, your broken arm will be fixed.”
Mental illness is something that can be caused by a lack of serotonin or dopamine chemicals that your brain needs in order to function properly. So no, it’s not something we are just “making up,” it’s actually real.
Throughout my darker valleys of battling with anxiety, depression, and OCD, I can honestly say that the Church was not the first place I wanted to turn toward. When you have been taught to give everything to Jesus, it’s hard not to feel ashamed for not being able to “let that go.” I have wobbled on the tight-rope of my faith because of things that my anxiety and depression have told me.
In the Church, the minute you express your faith is lacking, it’s as if a red flag goes off to alert everyone that something must be done immediately. The last thing I want is to be reminded of the shame I feel for not being able to believe God can heal me.
Having a mental illness does not make you a bad Christian or mean that you lack faith. To be honest, I don’t think I would be where I am in my faith journey without the things I have overcome with my mental health.
One thing I have learned is that the more you talk about it, the better. If we are able to have casual conversations about mental health in the Church, that opens the door to vulnerability, which leads to deeper relationships.
Jesus says to love our neighbor as ourselves and I believe these acts of listening and empathizing is what leads us closer to Him.
Despite a lack of understanding, if you want to be the Church, then help those struggling with mental health by listening, empathizing, and supporting them. Reach out. Speak up. You never know what is going on behind a smile.
Gracie Rymel is a senior at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville studying Social Work. When home, Gracie attends Beebe First UMC in Beebe, AR.