Talking about mental health can be really difficult and awkward, even though we may understand the importance of breaking the stigma. I find that my internal manifestations of mental health stigma is one of my biggest barriers to talking openly about it. I constantly find myself thinking things like:
- ‘I should be able to cast my burdens on Christ’;
- ‘I don’t want to bother other people with my problems’;
- There are so many people who are in worse situations than me, I’m just being dramatic’.
Whenever someone asks how we are, too often we immediately reply with something along the lines of “Yea I’ve been well, how have you been?!”, at times with a feigned smile plastered on our faces. This reply then initiates a similar response from the other person, ‘Oh that’s nice, I’m glad you’ve been well, yea I’ve also been doing pretty well’.
I’m not suggesting that we should not engage in these conversations, of course it’s a good thing for us to check in on each other. However, these types of conversations can prevent us from creating a supportive and comfortable space for people to share about their personal struggles. I find that some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had began with someone taking the initiative to open themselves up first. Rather than replying too quickly with ‘Yes I’ve been well, how have you been?’, they chose to share about some of their struggles. As a result of their willingness to be vulnerable, it encouraged and gave me the opportunity to also be vulnerable and open with my mental wellbeing. Their courage allowed me to have ‘The Gift of Going Second’.
Because our mental wellbeing is such a personal and sensitive aspect of our lives, I understand that it can be really difficult for people to feel safe disclosing their mental health struggles. My encouragement for you is to try and give others ‘The Gift of Going Second’. It will take some courage, but we are reminded in Galatians 6:2 to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” As Christians, sometimes we feel the need to have everything together, and feel that we should always be at peace even when life gets hard. But the truth is we live in a broken world where we all will experience pain and suffering. Sitting alone in the darkness is lonely, but God reminds us that His “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).
We may initially feel ashamed and scared to share our mental struggles with our Christian brothers and sisters, I’ve been in your shoes before and still am at times. Nevertheless, my encouragement is for everyone to try open up with their mental struggles, because doing so will not only make our burdens lighter, but also allow us to extend ‘The Gift of Going Second’.
by Alice Wang