This week (10 October) marks Mental Health Awareness Day. Two pastors on CHC’s Counselling Team share wise words on how to help someone who may be struggling mentally.
Mental health concerns have been on the rise globally over the past decade. The Covid pandemic only served to exacerbate the problem.
Just last week (5 October) Singapore launched a National Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, a move to officially recognise that mental health is now a significant social and public health issue.
Mental health issues affect Christians just like any other human beings. After all, we live in a broken world affected by sickness of various sorts, including ailments of the mind. Anxiety, depression, grief may affect all of us at various points in our lives. For some, these feelings and thoughts may not go away but grow into a condition that requires medical intervention.
Some Christians struggle with accepting the existence of mental health problems, citing 2 Timothy 1:7 — “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”— and other similar verses. However, the Bible also speaks of depression, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts, experienced by King David, Job, the prophets Jeremiah and Elijah. Throughout the Bible, God shows Himself kind and gentle to those going through mental anguish. As it says in Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed He will not break.”
City Harvest Church recognises the importance of mental health. For any church member going through such struggles, there are various sources of help. The Counselling Team is staffed by pastors and pastoral workers who have been formally trained in counselling. They provide a clinical approach to counselling for individuals, couples and families seeking to navigate emotional or mental health difficulties. The team works together with professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counsellors, and social workers to meet the psychological needs of church members in a holistic manner. Any member who is looking for professional help can speak to his cell group leader or pastoral supervisor who can refer him to the Counselling Team.
CHCSA, the church’s community services arm, also offers counselling services conducted by SafeSpace, which offers live counselling online and other support. These sessions are sponsored by a church member.
Often, help begins among friends. How we react to mental health issues that our friends and family members go through can go a long way to helping them or hurting them. Looking out for friends who may need mental support is often the first step to helping them heal.
We asked two pastors in the Counselling Team, Pastor Audrey Ng and Pastor Veronica Tang how to respond to common things said by those going through a hard time mentally and emotionally.
“Will I ever be healed?”
Pastor Audrey: “I can see that you’re going through a challenging time and I want you to know that I’m here for you. There are different treatment approaches that can be effective, such as therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. A mental health professional can discuss these options with you and tailor a plan to your needs. Recovery from mental illness is a process that takes time and effort. It’s important to be patient with yourself as you work towards healing. Remember, you’re not alone in this. I’m here for you, and we can navigate this journey together. You’re strong, and I believe in your ability to overcome this.”
Pastor Veronica: “Healing from mental health challenges can be a journey, like physical illness. Recovery takes time but is possible. You can take a two-pronged approach: trust God’s plan for your healing, immerse yourself in His Word to renew your mind, and seek support from professionals and your church community. Stay patient, hopeful and continue with your daily activities, meeting friends, and living your life to the fullest despite your mental health challenges.”
“Am I crazy?”
Pastor Veronica: “No, you are certainly not ‘crazy’. Mental health struggles are common, and they don’t define you. You are worthy and sane, just like anyone else. These mental health challenges can be managed with understanding, care, and proper advice. If you ever feel overwhelmed by your mental health challenges, please reach out to someone. You are not alone on this journey.”
Pastor Audrey’s advice for the friend or cell group leader helping the member: It is important to approach this with sensitivity, understanding and empathy. To label someone as “crazy” can be hurtful and stigmatising. Thus it is important to have an open conversation about their thoughts, feelings or behaviour. It is vital to offer concern and support by asking questions like,” Why do you feel this way? Is there anything you would like to talk more about? I am here to listen and support you.” When our ill members share, we need to validate their feelings with words like, “It sounds like you are going through a lot. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and struggle at times. What can we do together to help you through this?”
Always encourage the individual to seek professional help as they will help them navigate these feelings and experiences. It is important to remember that everyone faces challenges at some point in our lives and we need to avoid judgement. By approaching the individual with empathy and a willingness to lend support, we are creating a safe space for open communication and encouraging them to seek professional help if needed.
“Do I really need to take medication?”
Pastor Veronica: “There are various types of mental health conditions so do consult a healthcare professional to determine the right approach for your mental health struggle. Medication is a helpful tool to manage mental health conditions but is not the only solution. Even if you need medication, it doesn’t mean you’ll have to take it for life. Taking the first step towards your healing by speaking to a medical professional is a step closer to recovery.
“Personally, I suffered from depression when I was younger, and I did not need medication. However, the doctor provided standby medication to aid me in sleeping well. Counselling, speaking to a professional, changing my thoughts, and seeking God helped me in my recovery.”
Pastor Audrey: “Medication can be an effective treatment plan but it is important to discuss with your professional health care provider as the approach to treating each individual differs based on the severity of the illness, specific symptoms, medical history and preferences. Severe mental illness may require a combination of medication and psychotherapy for the treatment to be most effective. Everyone’s experience with mental illness and response to treatment differs. It is important to have an open dialogue with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you, whether it includes medication, therapy or a combination of approaches.”
“How should I pray for myself?”
Pastor Veronica: “Seeking the Lord through prayers and reading His Word helped me tremendously [during my own struggle]. It’s a source of comfort and strength. God is always with us and understands our struggles. In the morning, you can give thanks to God and ask for His love, joy, strength, and peace to surround and cover you, especially your thought life. At night, thank the Lord for His love and protection, and pour out all your fears, worries, and dark thoughts to Him. Some of my favourite verses to meditate on include 1 John 4:18, Philippians 4:6-7, and Psalm 121. You can consider the above suggestions when praying for yourself.”
“If I tell people about my mental struggles, will I face discrimination at work?”
Pastor Veronica: “Discrimination is a concern, but laws are in place to protect individuals with mental health conditions. In Singapore, The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) was set up to promote fair employment practices.
“Many people with mental health concerns ask these questions before seeking professional help:
“Can anyone see my mental health records?”
No, only medical professionals can access your mental health records, and that’s only with your signed consent due to data privacy laws.
“Do I need to declare to my employer that I have a mental illness?”
According to TAFEP’s guidelines, you do not need to declare unless it’s a job-related condition.
Remember, you’re not alone, and you can seek support and guidance when facing workplace challenges related to mental health.”