In 2020, the number of individuals seeking help for mental health issues increased by nearly 20 percent, due mostly to social isolation brought on by COVID-19. Christians are not immune to these issues, either. City News speaks to Pastor Audrey Ng, who heads City Harvest Church’s Liberty Ministry and a new team of trained counsellors who are ready to support church members, on why it’s important for believers to care for their mental health. Pastor Audrey also shares five ways to guard your mind for a healthy 2021.
CITY NEWS: Pastor Audrey, mental health has come to the forefront especially in the past year. Why is it important for people, Christians included, to look after their mental health?
PASTOR AUDREY NG: Our mental health encompasses our emotions, our thoughts, our actions and also our social well-being. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our being is made up of three parts: we are spiritual beings; we live in our physical bodies; and we have a soul – which comprises of the mind. Sometimes, as Christians, we may tend to focus on the spirit and not pay enough attention to the mind. But our minds are our greatest battlefields and also the door to the spirit. It is important that we keep our minds sanctified, so that we may think like how Christ would think in every situation.
Likewise in 1 Peter 1:13, the Word also tells us to “guard our mind”. As humans, we may have the tendency to struggle with negative thoughts, and if we are not careful, these negative thoughts can weigh us down and even become a stronghold in our lives.
Proverbs 23:7 says that “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…”. Very often, one area of dysfunction can affect the other areas of life. Our mental health has the power to influence the way we perceive a situation, how we function in our daily living and how we relate to others. For Christians, it can even take a toll on our spiritual life and affect the way we relate to God.
When we take time to care for our mental well-being by guarding and sanctifying our minds, it helps us to be more aware of our own abilities or weaknesses, and our capacity to cope with the stresses of life. This can also enable us to serve God more effectively and productively to fulfil His purpose for us in the kingdom of God.
There is a difference between mental health issues and mental disorders. Mental health issues are those that everyone may face occasionally—can you share what the tell-tale signs are?
We all struggle from time to time in the areas of our emotions and mental health. It could be low moods, stress or anxiety which are common psychological experiences in our daily lives. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.”
Some tell-tale signs of mental disorders can include the following: Difficulty sleeping for a period of time; dramatic appetite changes; rapid mood shifts; withdrawal from friends; loss of interest in daily activities or things they used to enjoy doing; a sense of disconnection from their surroundings. Some may overthink and become very easily irritable or sensitive to any remarks passed at them. Others may experience difficulty in concentration and expressing their thoughts. One may also have a sense of paranoia and constantly feels nervous and suspicious of others. In serious cases, there may also be a drastic change of the usual behaviour and suicidal ideation.
At different points in our lives, we may all have experienced one or two of these signs. But if one is constantly struggling some of these symptoms, and if it impairs one’s life functioning, especially for a prolonged time, he or she should consider seeking help from family, friends or a counsellor.
Pastor, as the person heading up Liberty Ministry and our newly minted Counselling Team, can you tell us about what CHC’s plans and structure are when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues? What is available and how can members take advantage of it?
Firstly, let us never be afraid of seeking help when we are struggling with any issues or forms of mental health issues. We must be assured that CHC is a safe place where we can always approach our leaders or pastors for help, whether spiritually, emotionally or mentally. If you are experiencing mental health distresses or struggling in any areas of your life, you may first speak with your cell group leader or pastor. Our leaders are always more than willing to lend a listening ear and help you in any areas of needs to their best ability. At any point where they feel you may require a more professional help, they will then seek your permission and refer you to the Counselling Team. The Counselling Team will then make arrangements to follow up and set up an appointment with the member who needs help.
What is CHC’s stand when it comes to keeping healthy mentally?
We probably all know of someone who has battled or is battling mental illness. Many people do struggle with mental issues, and the truth is, Christians are not immune. That is why mental health is a subject that must be increasingly discussed in the church. Otherwise, the lack of support and awareness may leave many struggling in isolation, feeling ashamed, unsupported or neglected.
In CHC, our mission has always been to be like to Jesus by “finding a hurt and heal it, and finding a need and meet it.” This does not apply to just beyond the church walls, but also within. In these dark and uncertain times, hope is essential and as a faith community, we want to make a difference and offer hope to those who are broken and in need. As a church family, we are committed to create a safe space that is filled with the love of Jesus, where members can feel secured and unafraid to come forward and seek help in the area of mental health and illness. We want to journey with them, assuring them the promise of 3 John 2 that God wants to heal and restore us in every area of our lives—physically, mentally and emotionally.
1 Corinthians 12:20-26 talks about how we as individual members are all connected in the body of Christ. One part of the body cannot function without the other. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over, and if one part of our body is honoured, the whole body rejoices. Whether you are a trained counsellor, a leader, a fellow brother, or a fellow sister, we can all make a difference by offering love and support to those who are in need.
5 WAYS TO MAINTAIN STRONG MENTAL HEALTH
1. Slow down & take a time-out
“Taking time to rest is not an option in today’s world; it is a necessity. Yet more people struggle here than in almost any other area of their lives. It is perilous not to take time to rest.” – Dr Archibald D Hart, senior professor of psychology and dean emeritus of Psychology at Fuller Theological College.
We live in a such a fast-paced and connected world that we may feel like we are constantly stuck in a never-ending cycle of life’s demands and routines. Especially during this time of pandemic, some may be experiencing online fatigue, while others may feel burned out working from home. Especially when it is increasingly difficult to separate work life from home, working adults or parents may feel deprived of their personal space or “me-time”.
That is why taking a time-out has to be intentional, especially when you feel fatigued, stressed or overwhelmed by work or situations you are going through. We need to set aside time to rejuvenate our souls, to seek the Lord, to meditate on the Word, or simply get out and go for a walk or a drive. Even Jesus and his disciples needed to get away from the crowds and rest.
“And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” Mark 6:31
2. Practise Mindfulness
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.” Charles Spurgeon
Mindfulness is a concept in psychology which describe an awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance of one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Awareness: Keep your mind and soul in check by asking yourself: “What is going on? Why is this happening? How am I doing mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?
Acknowledgment: “I am feeling this way”, “I am having these bad thoughts”, “I am struggling in this area”
Acceptance: Don’t criticise or judge yourself for feeling a certain way or thinking certain thoughts. Acceptance does not mean resignation, but it means being able to embrace your own thoughts and feelings and therefore being able to decide how to act upon them.
A practical way to practise mindfulness is to quiet our minds through prayer and meditation of the Word. Think about: What is God’s wisdom on this? What are some truths in the bible that you can meditate on? How can you work on changing your thoughts or feelings?
As believers, while we need to be mindful of our internal world, it is also important to redirect our minds towards God and things that are pure, positive, noble, good, peace. When our minds stay on God, and we trust that as we actively do that with a conscious choice, we will then experience peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3
3. Surround yourself with the right people
Research has shown that people with strong family or social connections are generally mentally healthier than those without a strong support network. The lack of strong social and emotional support has often been linked to depression and loneliness.
We all need to have people in our lives whom we can turn to for emotional or mental support. They can lend you a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on when things get tough; they can be around us to make you feel better and assure you that you are not alone.
Make plans to spend time with your family, cell group members and friends. Seek out activities or opportunities where you can meet new people. Be integrated into a healthy social group or community. Whenever you need someone to talk to, seek help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
In Matthew 26:37-38, Jesus said to His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” The truth is, most people do not simply “snap out’ of extreme states of depression or anxieties, but Jesus revealed that it can be helpful when we simply open up to share our emotions with those who care for us.
4. Take active steps towards your goal/vision in 2021
To overcome our fears or challenges, we do not need to have all the answers at once. Sometimes, we just need to get out of bed, shake away the bad feelings, and begin. The enemy often uses discouragement and procrastination to stop us from moving towards our breakthrough, to slow us down or even paralyse us.
We can start by setting realistic goals. Decide you will not be afraid to confront and tackle your fears, failures and challenges in 2021. When troubles strike, we tend to run away or choose to stay in a state of defeat or self-pity. Instead, learn to change your response. Whenever you are hit by a crisis, declare a bible verse to “combat” it. If you find that the trouble still persists, reflect on practical steps you can take to resolve the situation. Make plans and formulate strategies, stay accountable to yourself or someone else who can help you in your situation.
We all have personal battles to fight—the key is to choose our battles wisely. If an issue or problem is seriously affecting you or your life, take action to overcome it and never ignore it thinking that it will go away. Confront your fears and anxieties with godly confidence and know that God is fighting with and alongside you. Even Charles Spurgeon, a well-known theologian and preacher, battled with depression. It’s important to take small, active steps that are achievable, and to celebrate small wins each time we overcome a struggle.
“I am the subject of depression, so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to. But I always get back again by this–I know that I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in Him, and if He falls, I shall fall with Him. But if He does not, I shall not. Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get victory through it. And so may you do and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it.” – Charles Spurgeon
5. Embrace the person God created you to be
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him …” Genesis 1:27
Lastly, enjoy and be content with who you are in God. You may not feel like you fit into other people’s mould or expectation of you, but that’s okay. You may wish that you could change certain things about yourself, but God has created you this way.
Be kinder to yourself: Often, we are the worst critics of ourselves. Learn to treat yourself with kindness and respect. Don’t be too quick to criticise, blame or judge yourself when mistakes happen. We all have shortcomings, but the key is to laugh at our mistakes and silly things we did and not to be too harsh to ourselves.
Don’t compare: Don’t compare yourself with others, whether it is in terms of progress, performance or results. Remember that you are uniquely and wonderfully made by God.
Do what you enjoy: Do something that you like and don’t feel guilty about it. Watch Netflix if you must, go café hopping, take up recreational lessons, play an instrument, learn how to cook. Basically, take some time for your hobbies and broaden your horizons.
We can all afford to love ourselves a little more. If you will get up each day and be the person that God has made you to be and enjoy the little things that He has blessed you with, you will find yourself experiencing the fullness of life that God has prepared for you.
If you need help and support in your mental health, do take the time to consult your cell group leader or pastor who can direct you to the Counselling Team.