The isolation and loneliness characteristic of lockdowns is no joke. Look to Jesus. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he cried out in anguish about being forsaken – truly alone (Mark 15:34). Research clearly shows the effect of loneliness – reduced lifespan, cognitive ability, and physical health. During lockdowns, you might be feeling irritable, restless, flat, frustrated, sad, cranky, and generally lacking in motivation or the ability to concentrate. You’re not the only one feeling these things and it all comes under mental health.

In the last decade, mental health has been gaining attention and it’s at the fore right now. Statistics indicate that we all know (or will know) someone who’s struggling with their mental health. A friend, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, colleague – we all know someone. (In fact, in a family of 5, it’s likely at least 1 person will struggle with mental health).

But what is mental health? Just like how we have physical health, we also have mental and emotional components to our being. There are many aspects to our mental health, but emotions, mood and socialising are the ones we commonly talk about. Like physical health, our mental health can be good or poor. Good mental health is often equated with being happy, cheerful, or having a positive attitude. While these are good things, it’s an inaccurate picture of being mentally healthy. There are many situations when it’d be weird or inappropriate to be cheerful. And we weren’t made in the image of a God who only displays ‘positive’ emotions. The Father and Jesus express (righteous) sadness, anger, and jealousy, as well as overwhelming love (John 11:35; Deut 5:8-10; Matt 12:21). So don’t fall into the trap thinking you must be cheerful all the time! (Toxic positivity is a thing.)

The psychology clinic in which I work sees a huge range of people – including Christians. As God’s children, we are by no means impervious to mental illness. But where to get help? You may have doubts about the suitability of ‘secular’ therapy. It’s true, there are weaknesses in therapy which is based on your ability rather than looking to God. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly reminded of your weaknesses and are quite aware of your inability to save yourself in this life (let alone for eternity).

But, as Christians, we have something better: we have the unmoveable, unshakeable, unshockable bedrock of Christ. When you’re weak, you don’t need to be strong. God is strong for you and anything you achieve is by His grace and for His glory (2 Cor 12:8-10). When you’re sad, you can cling to the fact that God planned to sacrifice Jesus because He loves you, knowing that you might not even want Him (foreshadowed in the beautiful poetry of Isa 43:1-4)! Know and meditate on God calling you precious; He wants you! The foundation of Christ is THE source of joy. Like seeing your GP, a psychologist can help you with mental illness. But only Jesus coming again and implementing the new heaven and earth will ultimately banish the effects of sin.

It’s because of a foundation in Christ that we can have hope and joy. Amid lockdowns, isolation, changes (like Sandy and Andy’s new appointments), fluctuating moods and emotions, loss, grieving, and even changes in our ability to do everyday stuff, we can have joy.

A quick note: it can be quite daunting to seek help. God cares for us by encouraging us to get help when we’re sick (Matt 9:12; Luke 10:9-10). So, if a friend or colleague shares their struggles with you, please consider what your role may be – listening, telling someone more appropriate, or linking them to professional help.

Annalise Tenhave
Parish Councillor, 7pm Congregation