Psalm 44:21 - Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?
All across America people are sitting in churches, PTA meetings, in cubicles at work and at the dinner table at home. They put smiles on their faces trying to hold onto control and not give even a hint of the secret they hold inside.
So what is this secret? Two words – mental illness.
Whether it be depression, anxiety, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder they all hold a stigma. Many don’t know how to deal with it when it affects a friend or loved one. They want to pretend it doesn’t exist, so they pull away. If you’re the one who has a mental illness you may not know how to handle it either. And it’s almost like people treat you as if it’s somehow your fault and that you can “snap out of it” if you want.
There is another great secret: Mental illness also affects church pastors. Pastors rarely talk about mental illness while those sitting in the pews who have a mental illness would like them to open up more.
But thankfully this isn’t on a one-to-one basis. Many pastors have compassion for those who are mentally ill, just as they comfort those living with physical illness. However, they appear to find it difficult when speaking to a larger audience.
Perhaps it is difficult for pastors to speak about mental illness from the pulpit, because as I said above, many also suffer from some form of mental illness.
So, what’s a person or a church to do? Let’s take a look at the Bible. God knows our secret struggles and has compassion and comfort waiting to touch our hearts, just as he’s been touching hearts throughout biblical times.
There are many people in the Bible who struggled with mental health issues. Moses, Elijah and Paul thought about suicide (Numbers 11:15, 1 Kings 19:4; Philippians 1:20-26). Jacob, Job and David went through seasons of depression (Genesis 37:35; Job 3:11 and Psalm 38:6). Jesus was also among those who felt emotions like we do including anger, distress and sorrow. Paul, one of the great heroes of our faith was not healed from all of his struggles. Whether they were physical or mental we don’t know. But we do know he cried out for help, and it wasn’t God’s will for him to be healed (2 Corinthians12).
I know it’s a risk, but never be afraid to cry out for help from God and from others. Keeping your mental illness hidden in a secret place only keeps you from being the only person who can help someone else who is suffering. Take the risk. I did. And when I did, I found others who had seasons, and sometimes lifetimes, of struggling with mental health. God meant for us to be together in our efforts to remove the stigma of mental health and bring the help others are waiting for. It’s time to take action and dismiss the great secret of mental illness.
Karen Dalske is a freelance writer, public speaker, is active in her church and writes her blogs out of her own experiences of pain, illness and loss.