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Christian, Mental Health Matters - Part 2 The Problem with Mental Health Statistics

It was Mark Twain who said “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable". In today’s world it seems everything has an accompanying statistic attached to it. As I write this article, the Covid-19 pandemic is the centre piece of most news reports, which inevitably come loaded with infographics and their many statistics. These numbers and percentages can both equally wow us and worry us depending on what data is being presented, and therein lies the problem with statistics. The problem with statistics is that there is opportunity to manipulate the data to produce an output that suits a certain bias or worldview. It has been said “if you torture data enough it will confess” and that is certainly the case for some statistics that we are presented with. In this article we will look at some mental health statistics relating to both the breadth of humanity and the body of Christ. As we do this, it will become clear there is a problem with mental health statistics.

Mental Health Problems in the Secular World

The startling statistic that seems to be a common rule of thumb across many mental health agencies and authorities is that ‘1 in 4’ people experience mental health problems. Further to this the World Health Organization estimates that between 35% and 50% of people with severe mental health problems in developed countries, and 85% in developing countries, receive no treatment whatsoever. Furthermore, people with a diagnosed mental health condition have been shown to be at a higher risk of attempting and completing suicide, with more than 90% of suicides and suicide attempts having been found to be associated with a psychiatric disorder. I was raised in Northern Ireland and it breaks my heart to report that it holds the highest suicide rate for men in United Kingdom, registering at approximately 30 suicides per 100,000 men, which for a country with a population of 2 million is a frightening figure. Even more alarming is that the rate of suicide is increasing every year worldwide. Going back to Northern Ireland, when we look at the statistics, we are presented with the heart-breaking reality that the number of suicides, both male and female, recorded in 1980 as opposed to 2018 show an increase of over 200% rising from 118 recorded deaths to 307. When you delve into the data, you are presented with mental health problems in the secular world, there is no escaping it, the evidence is everywhere. A broken world, with broken people, produces the sad statistics we see. The statistics tell us that the secular world has mental health problems for sure, but what about the spiritual world, and by spiritual, I mean the body of Christ: The Church.

Mental Health Problems in the Spiritual World

Now as we look at the Body of Christ, do we find mental health problems within the Church? Well, if the 1 in 4 figure is accurate, then surely there must be overspill into the Church? So what do the statistics tell us? Unfortunately not much, because there aren’t many statistics to refer to. The problems exist alright, it’s just that believers are very good at hiding them! As a Pastor I have learned that the first response from the saints to the question “How are you?” is usually a lie. Many have cultivated a habit of responding with “things are good”, “I’m okay” or “doing fine Pastor”, when in fact their heart aches with the burdens of the battle with brokenness that we all face. The probing question is why do believers feel that they have to respond in that way whenever they are struggling with mental health issues, or indeed any other issues that come packaged with their humanity and abiding sin nature? The first port of call in answering that is to accept that there is a stigma attached to mental health problems within the Church body. As redeemed, regenerated people walking in resurrection power of the Lord Jesus we have been changed, the Apostle Paul writes of this in 1 Corinthians 6:11 stating ”And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), and therefore we should behave like those who have the joy of knowing our sins have been forgiven. There can be no argument given against the scriptural truth of our redemption and the joy that there is in Christ, but at the same time we have to acknowledge we live between the what is and what will be. Paul demonstrates this principle for us as he writes of his own battles with sin in Romans chapter 7, concluding in verse 24 with the words “O wretched man that I am!”. Yes, we have been redeemed but we are not as we will be; for now, we are all fallen people in a fallen world and the truth is that the eyes of the believer are opened up at the new birth to a world that is not a pleasant sight.

Let me ask you this, are you burdened when you see the amount of evil and injustice in the world? Are you broken for the unsaved souls of those you love and live alongside? Are you beaten down by the unforgiving relentlessness of the enemy we face? Are you being crushed by the weight of a trial in your life that will not lift? If we are honest with ourselves, we have all faced and felt these things at times and they have affected our mental health. You are not alone in these battles, but if you don’t share, if you don’t speak out, and if others don’t create an environment within the Church that enables us to speak out, then we feel like we are alone, even when are not. We then foster an environment where we equate our mental health problems with a lack of faith, and that is a dangerous place for the believer to be (Proverbs 18:1).

The Problem with Mental Health Statistics

Just as there are mental health problems in the secular world, so there are mental health problems in the spiritual world. Therefore the real problem with mental health statistics in our case is simply that the data doesn’t need to be manipulated to show the clear evidence of an overwhelming mental health problem in the world today. Whatever way we slice and dice the statistics regarding mental health, they present a problem. What then is the answer? Well we know that the ultimate answer is found in the saving, sanctifying grace of the Lord Jesus and the power of His word. There are many scriptural truths that we can, and should, apply to our hearts as we battle our brokenness; putting on “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”(Isaiah 61:3). There is a spiritual element to our response to mental health problems, of course there is, no right-minded believer would argue otherwise. However, that doesn’t mean there are not practical things that can be done that can benefit the believer who struggles with mental health. Here are some ideas that might be of help to your faith community:

• Invite a speaker or offer a workshop to teach people on mental health conditions.

• Get educational material and referral information from Christian groups that deal with mental health.

• Use bulletin inserts, brochures and handouts to educate about serious mental illness.

• Use prayers and sermons to raise awareness about mental illness.

• Look to create an environment where people can speak freely about their problems.

“Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2

If we all begin to be proactive in our practical steps, as well as our spiritual ones, in the battle against mental health, we become part of the solution rather than just a statistic that is part of the problem. 1 in 4 people are suffering, or have suffered, some form of mental health issue. Are you one of those four? If so, I would encourage you to reach out to the body of Christ and speak to someone about how you truly feel. If you are the one that somebody reaches out to, then make sure you are part of the solution for that person, rather than presenting a stumbling block.

The problem with mental health statistics is the gravity of the numbers that are presented. The problem is real, it is growing, and it is on everybody’s doorstep; let us not ignore it anymore.

Click here for Part 1.

Kevin Cowdrey is the Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church Spalding. Kevin grew up in Northern Ireland, where as a young man he was caught up with loyalist paramilitaries. The turning point in Kevin’s life came when he met Jesus and was saved in 2007. He went on to study at the Theological College of North Staffordshire. Kevin was ordained in 2016 and the same year took up the Pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church. Kevin’s passion is expounding the word of God clearly and carefully, to reach all ages. Kevin is married to Clare and they have two young children together.

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