It’s worth mentioning that this blog isn’t always that concerned to keep up with current affairs. If there are special occasions and events of one sort or another, I don’t feel obliged to mention them. So it is just one of those things that this entry so happens to happen on the same day as World Mental Health Day.
I am currently reading the autobiography of the former footballer and current football pundit, Ian Wright. Known for being a bubbly and chirpy character, so it was interesting coming across this quote.
In general, you’ve got a society in which men put up barriers around themselves and won’t even admit to being depressed, let alone talk about.
A Life in Football, Ian Wright: My Autobiography
He wasn’t writing about himself, more about the culture he was in where especially among professional footballers there were many barriers to talking about depression. It’s not that culture alone, though, that suffers from that problem.
There is a sense in which followers of Jesus shouldn’t be depressed or suffer from similarly debilitating mental illnesses. In certain Christian circles it’s almost as though you’re not Christian enough or don’t have enough faith if you are depressed. This obviously doesn’t help anyone, so those who suffer will tend to do so in silence, whilst being told all the time to rejoice in the Lord always and again he said rejoice.
There are cultural expectations of what it is to be a man both in church circles and the world that makes no room for ‘weakness’. There is little acceptance for vulnerability and so things like depression and feelings of inadequacy and even suicidal thoughts are not talked about openly and so barely addressed.
That is not to deny that in some cases there are some very real spiritual issues going on that need to be addressed and there may be a plethora of factors that contribute to a person’s perspective on themselves and subsequent seasons of doubt and despair. Even here, though, it would be great to know that there is a community who loves and cares and is capable to offer either effective support in themselves or signpost you to where to get the support you need. The kind of community that makes it easier to be vulnerable and share those tough times. The kind of support network that appreciates that there aren’t always quick fix solutions to these issues and just because one person is supernaturally healed immediately it doesn’t mean everyone should be or indeed will be. The kind of community that seeks to understand and then be sensitive in a proper compassionate response that is not about belittling the situation and the individual, but endeavouring to help them out even by just being a loving presence.
Men get depressed. Men of God get depressed. It happens. It’s a reality and to dismiss it or seek to avoid it is only building up for greater trouble at some point down the line. Not only is there a need for awareness, there is a need to shed light on what can be done to show love in deed to those who are going through.
As someone who has experienced a number of very dark times of the soul, I can agree with the casual dismissive comment that it’s all in your head. That is correct. That is where it is. It is really there and as long as it is there life cannot continue as others want it to be. Saying that it’s there does little to change anything other than the level of irritation that’s felt about such a disrespectful and negligent remark. Now that it is there, what can be done about it? What can you do to make a difference?
I am able to write this here and now today, because there were good people around me who exercised great patience and grace as I walked through some tortuous seasons. It can be a struggle sometimes, but to have people to support and feed love in situations like that is worth so much in itself.
Trusting God and believing in Him is to believe that He wants us to be whole and on the journey there we can walk with others and compassionately and sensitively seek to understand them. Even when we cannot, we can at least learn how to love in word and in deed as these times of life proceed.
Perhaps being a part of the community that is intentional about giving people the space and environment to be able to share these things will be a step in the right direction. Ensuring that men and women can feel free to be vulnerable, unsure and afraid can be tremendously helpful as initial steps on what might be a journey that lasts for a lifetime. Yet with love inside shared on the outside at least it will be a life-time and a life-time full of love at that.
It might be all in the head, but what can we do to see the head-space full of darkness, and bring a little light to it?
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden