Several years ago, I mentioned to my brother my desire to go to therapy. His response was “What’s wrong with you?” Needless to say, upon asking others, the basic assumption was that something was wrong with me. I began to realize the idea of mental health and wellness is very foreign to people and is so broad that the assumption is something is wrong with you if you just want to deal with the mental stresses of the day.
Mental health and wellness is a broad subject and can take many forms. I want to come from the perspective of “health and wellness” in connection to our mental state of being. As a clergy person within the LGBTQA community, mental health and wellness is often on the forefront of many challenges that come to light in our community. There are many who are unable to handle the stress of coming out to family, friends and co-workers and will often result to suicide or substance abuse. Mental health may not be an option for many due to the stigma of needing assistance to deal with challenges.
However, it is the ability to talk to someone you can trust that can save your life or the life of someone else. Somehow, we need to move from the place of “handling it ourselves” to a place where we seek others to help us in the journey. It is my belief, there are people created to be the caregivers of those of us who need help to maintain good mental health and wellness.
I serve a congregation that is Christian with an intentional outreach to the LGBTQA community as well as allies. As a pastor, I have seen firsthand the trauma of keeping “secrets” from those around us and the anxiety it can cause. I have had friends commit suicide due to the inability to come to terms with their sexual orientation and not having someone to talk to. For me, any loss of life is a loss to the world around us.
When we talk about mental health and wellness it comes down to how do we, mentally, deal with the world around us. Some of us handle things very well and some of us may result to self-destruction and/or substance abuse and may fall into deep depression. The pain becomes so hard some feel there is no way out of the pain other than trying to deaden it for a while.
In my years as a pastor, I have learned ways to deal with mental health and wellness. Coming from the African-American culture, many of us heard “All you need is Jesus” and on some levels, I do believe the essence of the statement. I do believe God is able to help us deal with the challenges in this society. When we can believe God sent Jesus as our advocate because God loves everyone, it takes away the sting of people telling us God does not love us. For me, and for others, recognizing who we are as a child of God, made in God’s image, is enough to get us through all of the hatred thrown at us by society.
However, what about those who are not there yet? Those that are not able to, currently, grasp the thought that God loves everyone unconditionally or have rejected the idea. There are ways, and I will name a few here. You can do talk therapy with a trusted pastor or a therapist. In some cases, there may be a need for medication. Other options are to journal and write down all the things that are bothering you or creating a daily gratitude list of things you are grateful for. When you are able to write out the things troubling you, it has the ability to clear your mind. Other ideas include meditation and labyrinth walks to become quiet in your spirits. There need not be stigma or shame associated in trying to maintain good mental health and wellness.
Of course from a spiritual perspective, it can be challenging to have people talk about what is going on in their lives. Many have succumbed to the idea that seeking help outside of praying is not welcomed by society. It is important to remember, for me, God created everything including doctors and therapists who can help with our mental health and wellness. If we can seek out the help we need, we will be able to handle society on a day-to-day basis.
Finally, what about mental health and wellness in connection to the shooting at Pulse back in June? Many in the congregation in which I serve, have been affected by the shooting and many ask the question of why. As a person of faith, I do not have the “right” answer. Evil happens in our world and no one can explain why. Being affected by what happened this far away and without any personal connection is called “secondary trauma” and can be discounted by many as not real. However, I believe it is very real and an area which is connected to our mental health and wellness and should not be discounted.
Talking and reflecting is important to our wellness and not rationalizing it away by saying you did not know anyone. The victims were part of our community and the larger community and we are all affected and effected by the shooting. Seeking a healthy outlet is in the best interest of our community. Coming together to talk with each other is important to wellness. Holding each other and crying with each other are ways to deal with the trauma that occurs in our lives and all of it has a direct connection to our mental health.
As we move forward in our world with so many challenges around us, it is important to take care of ourselves. To remember taking care of our mental health and our well-being is as important as taking our next breath. Regardless of what people want to believe, it does get better!