Yesterday I found myself at the bedside of a young man, my friends' son, hospitalised following a heroin overdose after years of poor mental health and devastating alcohol dependency. Despite his loving family, such complex needs and the power of addiction engender a sense of hopelessness and make recovery seem very far off.. Troubled after my visit and hurting for all involved, I was drawn to the Sunday evening worship at our local church. This service provides a quiet space to reflect on the week just past and find strength for what lies ahead.
The chosen Bible passage, Ezekiel chapter 34, seemed to speak directly into this difficult situation:
"I myself will look for my sheep... I will bring them back from that dark and disastrous day. I will lead them back... I will let them graze in safety.. and I will find them a place to rest. I will look for those that are lost, bring back those who wander off, bandage those that are hurt and heal those who are sick".
Returning home to meet our youth group, I felt compelled to talk about mental health with these young people, currently facing exams and the stresses and strains of teenage life, to let them know they can talk about depression and anxiety and ask for help. It was one of the best sessions we have ever had, sharing ideas about 'What is health?' and challenging the constructs of normality and abnormality that seem to reinforce taboos and stereotypes. It was encouraging to hear of passionate individuals in local schools providing safe spaces to talk about mental health; to note these wonderful young adults explain how they support their friends who have anxiety or depression by listening and signposting them to sources of help. We talked through how to recognise when you or others might be struggling and how to access support. Finally, we reflected on our shared faith and how this can provide comfort and meaning.
For further stimulating reading on mental health I can recommend this excellent blog Salomons' Blog to which my sister Anne Cooke, a clinical psychologist, is a regular contributor.