Even the best and the brightest among us can find ourselves enshrouded in a whirlwind of emotional turbulence or bombarded by thoughts of darkness and despair.

Our motivation may wane, fatigue may set in, and our sense of direction may become uncertain.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I am a student, not an expert, of mental, emotional and spiritual health. I have spent 44 years in ministry. During two of those years, I served as a pastoral counselor in a private practice.

Mental health involves the interrelationship of the mind, body and spirit. We have the capacity to experience joy, peace, happiness and gratification. But we also have the capacity to experience sadness, melancholy, depression, grief and anxiety.

Sometimes our thoughts and emotions are shaped by life’s circumstances and dilemmas. At other times, our thoughts and emotions are affected by changes in our body chemistry or our medications.

On Nov. 10, 2021, I received the tragic news that the 35-year-old son of one of my best friends took his own life. This past Monday, I stood with my friend at his son’s graveside as he shared his pain and asked, “What would cause him to do something like this?”

Over the years, I have presided at more than two dozen funerals precipitated by a self-inflicted death. And I have walked alongside hundreds of friends, fellow church members and ministers as they have navigated the clouds of despair.

Those who struggle with mental and emotional health are in good company. Many years ago, C.S. Lewis observed, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say, ‘My heart is broken.’”

The psalmist confessed, “In my distress, I called upon the Lord and cried unto my God” (Psalm 18:6), and “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 45:5).

Here are few facts to consider as we focus on improving our mental and emotional health:

  • One in four U.S. adults experience some type of mental illness in a given year.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and one of the largest health care expenses.
  • Each year, depression affects 5-8% of adults in the U.S.
  • 6 million adults in the U.S. live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
  • 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14.
  • 75% of all chronic mental illness begins by age 24.
  • People want to talk about mental illness. Family members (65%) and those with mental illness (59%) agree their church should talk openly about mental illness, so the topic will not be taboo.
  • Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide.
  • There are a million Americans who receive treatment for suicidal thoughts, behaviors or attempts on a yearly basis.
  • 66% of senior pastors seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.
  • Each year, suicide claims approximately 40,000 lives in America.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide).
  • Among young people aged 15 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Here are a few pastoral observations about our mental and spiritual health:

  • Most people of faith, including ministers, experience depression, anxiety or chronic worry for a season, and sometimes longer.
  • Our mental health and spiritual health are not identical, yet they inevitably influence each other.
  • The pandemic and the war in Ukraine, to name only two recent events, have adversely affected the mental health of individuals of all ages including the experiences of heightened anxiety and deeper depression.
  • If we experience prolonged symptoms of anxiety or depression (more than 4-6 weeks), we should talk with our family physician or schedule an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
  • Seeing a physician or counselor is a sign of strength, not weakness. We should think of it the same way we think of seeing a mechanic for our car or a dentist to care for our teeth.
  • Medication for our mental health may be needed to restore balance to our body chemistry. Medication should never be thought of as unspiritual but as one of God’s instruments of healing.
  • Proactively caring for our mental health is one of the many ways we honor God.

We cannot always know which of our friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors and fellow church members are contending with the darker emotions of the mental health spectrum. So, let us extend a little extra grace and space to each other as we proactively address the challenges of life.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The previous articles in the series are:

Jumping Through ‘Hoops’ for Mental Health Services Must End | Monty Self

Boundaries and Balance | Kyndra Frazier

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