Mental Health - A Most Important Link for Sports, Rec. and Fitness Outreach Ministers
The stats are alarming. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (as of 2016), nearly 1 in 5 adults in America battle some sort of mental illness in their lives.1 That’s not a statistic to be taken lightly.
I’m one of that 20%.
Growing up, did I ever think I would someday be writing about any type of mental illness that I was battling? Not in a thousand years! As far as I knew, I was a happy child with a positive outlook on life. Never could I have imagined what I would face down the road of life.
As an adult, and as life began to become a bit overwhelming, I started to struggle with negativity. From there it was a slow decline. While I was in the Word, I wasn’t applying many of its truths to my own life. I had been listening to the lies of the enemy my whole life, but only now was I truly taking these lies upon myself as a part of my identity. The self-talk in my mind was ugly.
Wounds from my childhood (and one traumatic incident which occurred 2 months prior to my breakdown) that I didn’t even know the depths of began to open and infect my soul. Have you ever tried to be absolutely perfect on all fronts because inside you feel lost, empty, unlovable, never good enough, and always fear the worst? I have. For 33 years. I just didn’t see it for equally as long.
It took the darkest week of my life, which landed me in the ER believing I was dying, for me to begin to see what damage had been done in my mind. That whole summer was really a blur for me. The darkness, the torment, the crying out to God, the fear that took over my every move, the burden that became physical pain, the inability to leave my house, the plans I made for my family in case I should die… it was as if I was living someone else’s life. Surely this wasn’t what had become of me.
I’ll admit that prior to my own battles, I didn’t take seriously the battles others faced. Anxious? Stop worrying! Depressed? Get out of bed! Suicidal? How dare you not consider those around you!
My entire experience opened my heart to a type of compassion I’d never known before. I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling, and yet I never heard anyone talk about it- especially within the Church. Why wasn’t this talked about? I was determined to be open about my story.
But in doing so, people didn’t know what to do with me. By being open and honest with my journey, I may as well have posted a “fragile: breaks easily” sign on my forehead. Yes, I had some who were abundantly kind, prayerful, and supportive, but others, may I be blunt, were clueless and quickly distanced themselves.
The world is waking up to the reality of the grim situation we’re finding ourselves in, but is the Church? I know this is finally becoming something that is talked about on talk shows, news specials, in our schools, and even now amongst pro athletes… but where are the people of God? At least in my life experience, the topic of mental health has been kept at arm’s length (or further) within the Church. But why is that when God cares about all parts of who we are: body, mind, and spirit? The Bible has a lot to say about our thoughts and minds, yet we tend to brush right by those parts as if they don’t apply to us or wouldn’t actually make a difference in our mental health.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, a Christian Cognitive Neuroscientist, in her book Switch On Your Brain states, “Research shows that 75 to 98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life.”2 Let’s take that seriously and apply God’s Word as He intended! Dr. Leaf goes on to say, “Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.”2
We can’t afford to keep pretending this isn’t present in our ministries and in those we’re trying to reach. If it truly is affecting 1 in 5, then it is much more prevalent in our circles than we could ever imagine.
Questions to Consider:
Do we believe people with these struggles have value?
Do we believe they have kingdom gifts that we need?
Do we want people keeping this internal battle hidden?
Or can we help them by bringing it into the light?
How can we do all of that?
First and foremost, we must take Scripture to heart:
“For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” Proverbs 23:7 NASB
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2 NIV
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB
Next, check in with your leaders regularly. Hold them accountable for their thoughts and words. Encourage them when they speak truth and gently remind them of it when they listen to the enemy’s lies instead. Provide them with the needed tools to practice this on their own. (My Biblical Self-Care Workbook may help! These are literally the tools that changed my life: http://fixyoureyesonhim.com/workbook)
Help get them professional Christian counseling if you see a need.
Finally, make sure to create a culture where there is no shame. We don’t distance ourselves from those who develop diabetes, do we? Cancer? Heart disease? So, why do we see a mental “illness” as any different than any other illness? Treat people with known mental struggles just as you would anyone else. Allow them to talk freely about their journey without any shame or embarrassment. Ask them to share their victories and then celebrate with them!
The harvest is great but the workers are few. If we don’t care for our mental health, just as we do our physical health, we won’t be able to serve the kingdom as much and as long. Let us do all we can to help leaders within our own ministries, as well as those whom we serve daily, become stronger in body, mind, and spirit.
Later this year, I’ll be back to talk about one more specific area we should be covering as we teach others (and learn for ourselves!) about wholistic health and what that might look like as a component of your ministry. In the meantime, feel free to join me over at http://fixyoureyesonhim.com for other wholistic health tips, resources, and more!
Link to free printable version for distribution (unaltered) to those in your ministry: https://fixyoureyesonhim.com/download/3533/