It seems that mental health issues have been making headlines. The House of Commons even debated it a week or so ago, and Michael Wenham responded with a great little piece on EA’s Friday Night Theology. “Tell it how it is”, he simply concluded. And bizarrely enough (without the slightest inkling it would coincide so much with public square events), we had our next Christians Facing Issues service planned for last Sunday on the very issue. Having tackled all variety of things in the past (the Credit Crunch, Celebrity culture, Pornography, Euthanasia etc), this time our theme was Facing Up To Depression.
As always, there’s always FAR more than one can cover in one go. Inevitably, aspects (even crucial ones) are omitted or overlooked. But it is important simply to make a start. And our aim was clear: “Tell it how it is.”
The Talks: a plea for realism, compassion and humility
There were a number of elements to the service. Readings, music and video – we also had the joy of having Jo Swinney with us to be interviewed about her experiences (many of which are recounted in her helpful book). Then we split the sermon into 3 parts: Dr Henny Saunders (a clinical psychologist in the congregation) did the 1st, and I did the 2nd and 3rd. The outline went something like this (each heading links to each talk):
1. Depression: The Fact – the need for realism (Henny)
- What is it?
- It’s varied and complex
- It’s not primarily about feeling sad
- It’s lonely
- It’s a ‘black dog’, a ‘dark tunnel’, ‘a pit’
- Why take it seriously?
- It’s common
- It’s debilitating and can be dangerous
- It’s treatable
- Psalm 42:1-4 He cries out to God
- Psalm 42:5-11 He preaches to himself
- 2 Cor 12:7-8 Mysteries of pain
- 2 Cor 12:9-10 Purposes in pain
This really is personal
But as the whole service was about honesty and integrity, it was important that as preacher I did the same.
So I was open about my own struggles over the last 7 years. A very weird business really. And I had hugely mixed feelings about doing so. But as I said during my first talk, it was not out of a desire for therapy by ‘over-sharing’ public confession; nor was it because I’m expert on the subject; and it was definitely not in order to become the go-to-guru in All Souls for any similarly struggling (I’d lose it completely if that happened!). But it was simply to break the taboo… and to be a help to those who need to know they’re not alone.
Things that some found helpful from the service were the books we recommended:
Then I featured the poetry of William Cowper quite a lot. Here’s one that I quoted…
I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charged when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by one who had himself
Been hurt by th’ archers. In his side he bore
And in his hands and feet the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts
He drew them forth, and heal’d and bade me live.
(From the Task, 1785)
Two of our All Souls fab apprentices pulled various things together for this little video. In particular, we used, in various ways during the service, the powerful Emotions series of artist Leah Robb.
One of our Q&A panel after the service , Dr Sunil Raheja, is a psychiatrist and he is setting up a web presence to help people facing this. If you want to find out more, email him at depressionhope [at] gmail [dot]com
Finally, here is some first-aid advicefor those who suspect they have depression or know someone who might.
- Seek medical advice with your GP (or A&E if something more anonymous is preferred).
- Be open to the possibility of medication or counselling or both.
- Talk to someone about how you are feeling and ask them to pray.
- Try some gentle exercise and get some rest.
- Accept any offers of help