In the last article, we reviewed the socio-religious landscape in our country, a decline in the influence of Christianity in our society, along with a weakness in strength of the witness of Christ among Christians. What has this got to do with mental health? Why is this important in considering the mental health of our society or put another way – how relevant is the Christian faith to a positive mental well being?
We live in a dark world that is getting increasingly darker with each passing day. Each day our news seems to take on unprecedented catastrophic proportions that are unheard of. Humanity is turning its back on God and replacing Him with human systems. The result is, increasingly the wicked heart of men is being revealed daily in acts of selfishness and wickedness (Romans 1:28-32). The nations, kingdoms and economies of this world are being shaken.
The result is the hearts of men are failing and people everywhere live in more uncertainty, fear and anxiety. There is enough negative news on our television screens to make one feel depressed and it is worse still to have such news repeated several times in the day. I wonder why the breaking news always has to be the worst kind of news. The evidence from both developed and developing countries is that the inequality gap between rich and poor in many societies is growing wider and no single nation seems to have an answer. Advances in science and technology have not brought the much needed peace and happiness they often promise. At the same time much of the values that drive our modern societies are becoming increasingly materialistic, vain and empty – leaving many of us unfulfilled and in search of true happiness and peace.
Impact on Mental Well-Being
These overarching issues have an expression in our day-to-day living and the well being of people. For instance, many in our society today struggle to have a restful night’s sleep due to worry, stress and anxiety. According to NHS Choices, about a third of people in the UK have episodes of insomnia. The UK charity Anxiety UK, estimates that depression and anxiety in the general population has increased by 13% since 1993. Mental health is steadily taking its deserved front seat in public health promotion as we begin to recognise the economic burden that it presents both in terms of public expenditure and loss in productivity.
A Search for Answers
Indeed everywhere around us there is a growing search for genuine answers for true peace and happiness. In an age where man seems to have attained every possible frontier in every imaginable sphere of life, the very answer that should bring peace to the soul of man seems illusive. Our fallen human race is groping in the darkness of this world for answers to the human soul.
The government has also realised that material enrichment is not enough and is equally in search of answers to the soul. At the beginning of 2013, the coalition government commissioned the Office of National Statistics to lead a debate in defining a “happiness index” through the National Well Being Project. As the Prime Minister put it, “… while economic growth is a priority, we should be thinking about well being as a measure of progress in a civil society.”
It is true to say that the trade-offs that people face in finding happiness are different and unique from person to person. However as Lord Layard of the Centre for Economic Performance put it in a BBC interview, “… if we were to ask people about the factors that contribute to their well being, we will find that mental health is the single most important factor.” Yet even the field of mental health realises more and more the importance of faith and religious beliefs to the health of an individual.
I believe our Christian faith in particular has a lot to offer in terms of people’s mental well being.
The Gospel – God’s power in transforming lives
First of all the bible describes the good news about Jesus Christ as the power of God or the means by which God brings salvation to everyone that believes (Romans 1:16). The word salvation here stands inclusively for all the blessings of God – the deliverance of God as it relates to the spiritual and material dimensions of life. In other words God’s salvation does not end with the spirit of a man but extends to his soul as well, i.e. his mind, emotions and will. The zoe – abundant life that Christ promises (John 10:10) has the potential to permeate the entire personality of any human being to restore peace of mind, stable emotion and strength to make godly decisions as a result of the Holy Spirit taking residence in an individual. This is why a habitual drunkard may try all he can to give up on his habit but once he encounters the living Jesus, this same person becomes a hater of what he used to love. Hence the attributes of the Kingdom of God found within any Christian is described in terms of “… righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17 KJV). Notice not happiness but joy in the Holy Ghost.
The gospel of Jesus Christ has the ability to transform lives from within by changing the hearts of men. Of course we would be fools to believe that every person will become a Christian, because people do have a choice to reject the good news about Christ. Yet still we must give others the opportunity to share in this zoe life if indeed we have tasted that the Lord has been good and gracious to us.
Every Christian is called into partnership with the Holy Spirit to see God’s Kingdom of shalom/peace here on earth as we work for the harvest of souls into the Kingdom of God. The bible designates the title of “ambassador” to each believing Christian and has entrusted each one of us with the glorious good news of God’s selfless love toward mankind made manifest through the salvation work of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). While the responsibility of the Christian Ambassador is to proclaim this good news, it is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to bring about conversion of souls through illumination or often conviction through the good news that has been proclaimed. The two must go together. But someone has to proclaim the message (Romans 10:13-14). However it appears that many of us, including myself, are not fully convinced of the power of God vested in His word to change lives. Indeed the question is this: ‘If God, through His grace has been able to transform our lives by the same message, will He not do the same for the unbelieving person that we have written off in our hearts?’ May God forgive us for our unbelieving hearts! If God did not give up on us, how come we give up so early on others? Beloved, let us repent of our unbelieving heart and seek God for a passion for the lost, since a long while ago we were to be found in the same place they find themselves now.
Many in our society today will be healed and receive wholeness if only they could know that they are loved unconditionally by God. For some the only love they have known is the so-called love which is veiled in a cloak of sexual or physical abuse. Many of our youth would not seek affirmation or acceptance from gang identity if they realised that they are already accepted by God in Christ.
The Gospel – A Message of Hope
A common feature of many mental health conditions is fear: Fear of being disabled for life, fear of never able to recover, fear of losing one’s livelihood, fear of complete loss of one’s identity, fear of what the future might bring or even fear of death. People carry these fears all around us in our day-to-day social circles. As Christians we have the privilege of walking with the Holy Spirit since Jesus promised us that He is with us always even to the end of the world. The Christian, who lives in this truth, has no cause to fear under any circumstance.
We are called to be sensitive to the world around us and be able to extend the love of God which brings hope to a dying world. The good news about Jesus Christ contains a message of hope and faith. It offers an anchor for the soul in a world where we continuously battle with the stresses and pressures of daily living – sometimes to the point of despair. This anchor provides a resilience and strength for coping with life’s challenges and difficulties. The field of mental health acknowledges the central place of resilience in one’s mental well being and now beginning to appreciate the importance of faith as a source of resilience.
The Gospel – The Light of the world
Beyond influencing individuals, I believe our church community is vested to show to our world the all encompassing love of Christ both within and outside the four walls of the church. As the love of God is practical, so are we called to express this love in practical ways. The bible states that greater love has no man than that one should lay down his life for another. The early church typified this way of living as each one brought what they possessed and they had all things in common so that none lacked among them (Acts 4:32-34). Unfortunately today much of the church has adopted the individual values of capitalisation that we find in our contemporary societies with the result that it is often difficult to tell the difference between the church and the world.
This brings to mind the social agency work of William and Catherine Booth, missionaries and pioneers who founded the Salvation Army, known for its wide ranging social services toward those on the margins of society – a mission, which provided bedrocks in our present social welfare system. Needless to say, most of the marginalised of our society today, including the homeless and mentally ill depend on the welfare system for their livelihood. With a heart for the poor in society, they helped to break the link between social deprivation and well being for millions of people by living out the famous phrase – “not hand-outs but hands-up.” As a church, we are called to give a voice to the weak, to act as social agents by demonstrating through practical ways our concern for those suffering every form of human indignity including the mentally unwell and to shine our light for the rest of the world to follow. It is a high calling.
May God help us!