For us in the Pacific Northwest the weather this Memorial Day Weekend will likely be one filled with fun outdoors, since the “mountain is out.” Many will share in barbecues, picnics, boating and playing outside as we celebrate the symbolic start of vacation weather.
Some will actually take the time to remember those who gave their all to fight for these freedoms the rest of us share in this great country. From elaborate television programs and physical gatherings to abundant American Flags in yards, cemeteries and peppered along city streets, we’ll be reminded this holiday is not just about days off and fun in the sun. Hopefully, we never forget the great sacrifices which have been made by noble people who died in wars.
Few will likely even notice as we wrap up May, we will also be wrapping up National Mental Health Awareness Month. Sure, the “great plague” has brought to the surface a very real issue in mental health as increasing numbers of people have struggled through it all. Even so, there is a very real reason we have a month set aside to draw attention to a growing problem in the world.
Thankfully, negative stigmas of mental illness have waned in recent years. It used to be something about which we all felt required to keep silent. We now live in a time when it is more acceptable to openly discuss these matters, and there is less shame placed on affected individuals and families. That’s a good thing.
Even so, it’s a delicate subject. Talking about it can trigger very irrational behaviors in people who have no history of their own mental illness, but are deeply affected by mental illness issues of others they love or loved. A friend of mine who is actually a leader in mental health awareness recently attacked someone publicly for no good reason. This friend totally misunderstood a well-articulated public post on social media, made very inaccurate and unwarranted accusations against an individual, and demanded a retraction or correction. She is the one who should have retracted or corrected, but she had imagined words never said, and refused to repent, getting herself and others unnecessarily wound up and distracted from reality.
This event demonstrated a common and often unstated problem with mental illness consequences. If a person you love has mental illness, dealing with said loved one can take its toll on you, as well. Unfortunately, the mentally ill individuals already feel like they’re messing up their own lives and everyone else’s lives around them. Then, when those around them start exhibiting very real breakdowns in their own emotional or mental health, it compounds matters all the more. It makes the mentally ill feel validated in their assumption they are ruining others’ lives.
When this happens, a deeper and more personal sense of hopelessness and worthlessness sets in. An already depressed person then sinks lower in a deep pit of despair. Whole families can be dragged down in times like these, and it can seem nearly impossible to climb out of it.
For Christians this poses an additional layer of difficulty. When a family of believers finds themselves, each struggling for hope, individuals begin to doubt God altogether. Their faith erodes, and they find more guilt than comfort, thinking about their religious beliefs. It’s easier to dismiss the existence of God than to admit one’s own lack of faith is a contributing factor in one’s own emotional decline.
If we believe our lack of faith has contributed to our own depression, then we’ve taken some blame for our condition. Then, as we blame ourselves for messing up our own lives and the lives of others, we experience a deeper darkness than before. It can become quite overwhelming, and can lead to dangerously dark thoughts.
In a short weekly religious newspaper column, I cannot solve the mentally ill problems of the readers. That’s not the goal. The purpose in addressing these issues is to remind us that people all around us are experiencing difficult times, mentally and emotionally.
Christians, the Bible is so full of “one another” passages we know we cannot fulfill without hanging around others. Our world has had a significant uptick in people, struggling with life difficulties. The “plague of 2020-2021” has brought us divisions, job losses, uncertainties, financial fears, conspiracies, deaths and increased cases of mental illness. People all around us need us to live out our faith by loving them. The need might be greater now than ever in our lifetimes.
So, as you see a lot of people enjoying the improved weather this weekend and thereafter, please try to pay attention to those who are staying isolated and inside. Notice those who feel unnoticed. Sacrifice time, energy, and resources to be helpful to those who need it much, but won’t ask. Christians, we can make a difference, if we choose to look beyond ourselves and take loving, sacrificial, selfless action. Let’s be the light and salt of the earth. The need is great. Please do your part!
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2, ESV).”
Pastor Jeff Adams is a longtime community leader, victim advocate, counselor, and chaplain. He ministers internationally, nationally, and locally. His column appears online weekly, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.