Between Faith and Mental Health

Mak Hao Yangl승인2019.11.04l수정2019.11.04 12:29l374호 1면

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  Jarrid Wilson, 30, a pastor who worked at the 15,000 member Harvest Christian Fellowship Church and was the co-founder of Anthem of Hope, a Christian based organisation that works to battle depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide, killed himself in September. This was a shocking news to the world and especially to the evangelical community, as Wilson was a well-known advocate in the fight against suicide and depression, but he couldn’t save himself. This led me to think, is society sending the wrong message that people of faith are not affected by mental health issues? Are they pressured to a point where they cannot ask for help themselves?

▲ Pastor Jarrid Wilson who took his own life, leaving his wife and children behind. (Photo from BBC)

  It is a common misconception that people who are religious leaders or have such strong religious beliefs, have all the right answers. Suicide is also viewed as taboo in many cultures, especially in the Christian community, where the concept of an afterlife is almost always a topic of discussion. This might be why Jarrid Wilson couldn’t ask for help. Wilson said, “Admitting your mental health issues doesn’t make you a bad Christian.” But who helps a pastor who is supposed to be the beacon of hope for lost souls?

  The suicide rate has been on the rise and according to research, more than half, almost 59% of pastors that have counselled people for depression were later diagnosed with mental illnesses themselves. These Christian leaders are struggling to aid believers with depression and anxiety while at the same time, having no one to turn to themselves.

  It isn’t just coincidental that suicide is a growing issue around the world. Among the younger generation, “burnout culture” is the biggest issue. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for our youth because despite the conveniences of the modern world, the overwhelming rate of job turnover, has young people burning the candle from both ends. They feel as if there is no hope and they have no future, so they end their lives instead of seeing past their current state of misery. Leaders and counsellors like Jarrid Wilson not only have their own stress to deal with, but they also have to carry the stress of others, making the burden too hard to bare. As a result, 1it is imminent we create a culture of self-awareness and ‘internalisation’. We always try to pull people in around us, but sometimes we must stop and focus on ourselves in order to help ourselves.

  These days, the world is slowly approaching this idea with a more serious tone. In popular culture, the famous series on Netflix ’13 Reasons Why’ is based completely on the  suicide case of a teenage girl, demonstrating that suicide and depression are not impulsive or “attention-seeking” acts, but rather a culmination of a series of small signs that we ignore until it is too late.  In one of the episodes, it showed a 10-minute long suicide scene that would’ve been demonetized on mainstream media, but despite the complaints of inappropriateness, the show’s producers insisted it was crucial to showcase that suicide is never a romantic and easy process. It is painful and lengthy and most importantly, irreversible.

  On the opposite end of the spectrum, self-care is also becoming a new trend. It is not just about purchasing items that make us feel better, but also about getting professional help. Famous Youtubers like Jenn Im, who has 2.46 million subscribers to her beauty/lifestyle channel has made multiple videos discussing mental health, pressure and her journey in therapy. This has left a positive impression towards self-care on her viewers when even a young, famous Youtuber, who is seemingly living the perfect American dream, has issues she has had to deal with as well.  These episodes have led her subscribers to pay more attention to their signs of depression and anxiety and to seek out help as well. Nowadays, therapy comes in all shapes and forms and is no longer viewed as shameful or inapproachable.

  Apart from the attempts of popular culture, churches are also changing their perspectives on suicide, as more church leaders are embracing a compassionate approach to treating people with depression instead of simply delivering a long lesson on the “consequences” of their actions and the afterlife. Another pastor at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church stated that loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. He said that loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression, but that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He also urges believers that apart from faith, they should always remember to consider their mental health as well. Furthermore, Tommy Givens, an associate professor of New Testament studies also stated that there is positive progress towards mental health within faith communities as more people studying ministry have included psychology in their study programs as well. He also believes that even in the Scripture, there are people who had signs of depression and hopelessness, so churchgoers should never feel defeated if their suffering made them doubt the existence of God. They shouldn’t view this as a sign of defeat, but rather as a normal part of life. Instead of beating themselves up over it, they should seek professional help.

  September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day and October 10th is World Mental Health Day. In my personal experience, even talking to a free counsellor at Dankook University’s (DKU) counselling center was extremely helpful. More importantly, we must not be afraid to admit our issues and be open minded towards getting help. No matter whether you are a religious leader or a student, we all need someone to take care of us and sometimes, that person is ourselves.

▲ The DKU Counselling Center, located at the 3rd floor of the library, provides various services including stress level diagnosis, group counselling and personal counselling. (Photo from Dankook University Website)

Mak Hao Yang  dankookherald@gmail.com
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