Mental health – not just mental illness!

Yes, it is about those who struggle and also about how to flourish more! Interestingly, WHO defines mental health in this way, as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease”. It is related to the promotion of well-being, the prevention of mental disorders, and the treatment and rehabilitation of people affected by mental disorders”.

Beyondblue puts mental health and mental suffering in this way, “Research shows that high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships, and with improved physical health and life expectancy. In contrast, mental health conditions can cause distress, impact on day-to-day functioning and relationships, and are associated with poor physical health and premature death from suicide.” (2)

Mental suffering and mental health is relevant for us all!

We all have a mental/mind part to us. This is so tightly connected with our spiritual life of physical and our social lives. Mental health is so relevant for families, marriages & parenting; for children, youth and young adults. One in every 5 of us will have a mental disorder in this coming year. (5) All of us need our minds to grow, whether that be in our thinking, feeling, or even in the depths of who we are. The healthier our minds are, the healthier will be our relationships! And it seems that mental suffering is as common in the church as in the community! In the USA, “1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) acknowledge they have “personally struggled with mental illness,” and half of those pastors said the illness had been diagnosed, according to the poll (infographics below). One in four U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.” (8)

But mental suffering is common and serious.

It is a major cause of death! The commonest cause of death in Australia for youth and young adults is not road traffic accidents – it is suicide. It is in this age group where most mental health issues arise! By the time  children have reached young adults, 1 in 4 have already had a mental disorder! 1 in 4! (5) And only 1 in 4 of these have received professional help! (6) Kids from broken homes are twice more likely to have mental health problems! (6) It is also relevant as we move on in life through midlife into old age, where there is the greatest risk of suicide of all ages. About 7 people have killed themselves in the last 24 hours in Australia! Most of those are young. (2). In the next 24 hours, a further 7 families will have lost one of our own to suicide. Mental suffering is not just a girl issue – men have as much mental suffering as women! It’s just that it often presents differently with men compared to women! (7)

The government tries to help, but the need is too big.

In 2011, while the overall cost of supporting people with a mental illness to be at least $28.6 billion(3), the government funding just was only about ¼ of that at $6.9 billion.(4). Dr Matthew Cullen, Group Executive of Medibank Health Solutions and a practising psychiatrist, states: “The critical issue with mental illness treatment in Australia is that individuals with mental health needs are not receiving adequate support because the system is fragmented and uncoordinated. “People fall between the gaps of the healthcare system and the social services systems, and even between the various components of the social services system such as housing and income support.We need to address these gaps urgently.” (3)

The church has a huge opportunity.

One of the major issues with mental health, let alone mental suffering, is a lack of resources. People fall through the gaps! Less than 50% of people who have mental health should health issues go to their GPs – let alone to a counsellor/psychiatrist. What would happen if the greatest resource in Australia, the local church could take this opportunity, of filling the gaps! The Australian church has an amazing capacity to be relevant to not just mental suffering but also to mental health! Indeed an amazing opportunity to reach out to the community – but also a significant challenge to reach in to the church where the mental suffering and health needs are just as common!

The church should be the place where people can have a sense of safety and move towards God centred flourishing. We should be the people most of all who can connect – as Jesus did! If you want the power of relationships to be emphasised even more, listen to what the secular world has to say about this!, “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.” 2

The need is obvious! The opportunities are clear! The church can seize the day and use its capacities to be relevant to mental health!