They say that one in every two people will suffer mental illness in their lifetime.
We can too easily hide our head in the sand and think that, because mental illness can’t be seen physically or hasn’t touched us personally, it is somehow less real.
I remember the day eight years ago when mental illness became very real to me.
I can remember when and where it was that I received a phone call to say my only brother John was dead.
I cried outside the cinema, sitting in my car with my wife and youngest daughter for what seemed like the longest time, trying to grasp what I had just been told.
My brother, passionate loving husband, father to two sons and someone who brought so much joy and adventure to people who were blessed to know him.
It didn’t make sense.
It’s only as I came to understand the nature of mental illness that I understood how important and how undervalued our mental health really is.
Mental illness is real and is taking lives.
I know that the death of my brother doesn’t make me an expert (or anywhere near an expert) on the incredible web that is mental illness, from chemical imbalances to personality disorders, the web is complex.
However, I can talk about my own experience and my many years of coming alongside people struggling with mental illness in my pastoral ministry, and more recently, the people I meet who are facing terminal illness.
According to Beyond Blue, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.
Further they say that having social connections, good personal relationships and being part of a community are vital to maintaining good mental health and contribute to people’s recovery, should they become unwell.
I can tell you now that when I was first diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, I went through a dark place in my own mental health. I was scared I would be as suicidal as my brother. I knew I would have to get mentally strong for the long road ahead.
This may surprise some people but I believe that the decision to get professional help has kept me able to continue doing what I am today.
Did you know that in Australia, a General Practitioner (GP) can provide you with a mental health plan that allows you to visit a counsellor or psychologist 6-10 times for free?
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help in the area of your thought life and mental wellbeing.
If you find yourself pushing people away who you once found great joy being around or you have this sense you don’t want to bother people, or if you are having feelings of being overwhelmed, unhappy, disappointed, miserable, sad or continually irritated, or if you believe life is not worth living or that people would be better off without you, its time to seek help.
Taking the bold step of making the first appointment is always the hardest, but it simply needs to be taken.
I am so grateful that I can talk to someone who has no other agenda but to see me mentally and emotionally strong in the midst of what can be a painful experience.
Just as I learned to trust my GP, my physio, my nutritionist, my respiratory specialist, my occupational therapist and my neurologist with my physical wellbeing, I needed to trust a professional counsellor with my thought process and managing my stress and emotions.
Alongside all these supports, my faith and trust in God to give me strength is vital. To all of the above I continued in Church, pastoral support and my personal prayer life. I guess you could say I created a “life team” of sorts to help take care of my body, soul and spirit.
It is clear that the challenges of today will not be overcome by yesterday’s weapons. I believe with greater attention to mental health and with the right help, mental illness doesn’t have to win the battle over your mind.
[For immediate support in Australia, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636]