Last week, I learned that in the UK, 9 out of 10 people with mental health concerns have experienced discrimination. 1 out of 4 people will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year. I learned that words are powerful tools that help cultivate life and bring out the best in others, but words are also weapons that cut people down and cause destruction. And unfortunately so much of the English language that we use to talk about mental health is negative. Nutter, weirdo, lazy, slow are words that appear on the tongue quite easily. Whereas other, kinder words that encourage a person to describe how they are feeling are often more of a challenge to use. Takes practice. Takes intention. Takes a desire to want to change our language, so we can encourage a healthy, more helpful dialogue.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – words matter to God. God created the world with words (Genesis). Jesus is the Word (John). Proverbs 18:21 in the Message says, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” Jesus taught that words reveal what’s going on in our hearts, which is what God’s interested in (Matthew 15). When so much of our culture is centred around encouraging people to hide behind the mask of “I’m fine” when really they are near breaking point, then maybe we in the church need to be the ones that encourage true, honest dialogue? The church could be a community that says “You can have your mask if that’s helpful, but you don’t have to for my sake. I want to know how you really are feeling today, because God cares about you and so do I.”
I understand that we church folk are not counsellors or psychiatrists. We aren’t doctors. In my opinion, people should be encouraged to seek medical help for mental heath concerns. What I took away from the awareness course is that we need for the church to be a community where the language we use around mental health issues encourages dialogue rather than discourages, because when people try to hide or ignore the early warnings signs, things can get out of hand quite quickly. Being a community that encourages open and honest dialogue will empower people to speak, knowing that they will be listened to, and will empower people to seek help, knowing they won’t be stigmatized by church folk.