Tag Archives: Mental Health Initiative 2018

Irene Ascough: Being Restored

Mental Health Initiative 2018

by Irene Ascough

For the past year The Messenger has published articles that have spoken about Mental Health and Mental Illness. As a Mental Health Initiative in the EMC, we hope to have sparked conversation and discussion among our churches. Our articles have asked people to consider how the church can care for people who have a mental illness. We have looked at how we can become communities that promote the mental health and well-being of youth. We have also considered our role in supporting the healing work of God and how can we interact with the systems and supports that surround us.

This article contains part of my story, and is an example of how we all experience brokenness, pain and challenges to our mental well-being. It is based on the belief that our mental, emotional, spiritual, relational and physical health are inter-related. In 1 Corinthians 12:26 we read, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” I believe that this is true of both our individual selves and of the Church.

My Story

One day this summer I was out for a walk and listening to a devotional app that I use. The reading that day was Psalm 23 and as I heard the familiar words, “He restores my soul,” it became personal and clear to me that God is restoring my soul. While I knew a sense of longing for it to be true, I also wondered what had happened to my soul? While we all suffer under original sin and need restoration, I knew that I had committed myself to God many years ago and had not walked away from that commitment. So, I wondered, what had happened to my soul?

Albert Barnes, in his commentary, says that the reference to the soul here is not to the soul as wandering or backsliding from God, but to the life or spirit as exhausted, wearied, troubled, anxious, worn down with care and toil. And the heart, thus exhausted, He re-animates. He brings back its vigour. He encourages it, excites it to new effort, fills it with new joy.

Well, that described my soul at the time. I had experienced multiple losses that were sudden and unexpected and, therefore, traumatic. My spirit was exhausted, weary, sad, troubled, anxious and worn down with care; and it was amazing to hear God speaking to me through His Word that He would restore my soul.

Restoration

I got curious about the word restore, and thought about where else we use that word. I thought about the things people restore, such as old buildings which probably cost more to restore than to tear down and build new. Or old furniture that is given new life and purpose with fresh paint and hardware. There are art restorers who painstakingly clean the dirt and grime off an old painting to uncover the original colors, shadows, and vibrancy that the artist first created.

People restore things because they see the original beauty and the value of the craftsmanship. They recognize that they do not have some mass-produced, cheaply made, disposable item, but something interesting and unique and made to last. They also know that they will never get back what they put into it, and that doesn’t matter because what they do is a labour of love and it brings them great satisfaction and joy.

Now think of yourself as the building or furniture or piece of artwork and imagine God as the restorer. We are His creation and in the beginning we were very good (Genesis 1). However, our souls become weary and worn, battered and bruised from a combination of many things, including our choices, the things that happen to us, and the fact that we live in a broken world.

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Masterpieces aren’t made by run of the mill craftsmen; they require the skilled hands of a genius. They are one of a kind, never to be repeated gifts to the world. Stripping off the false layers and dirt that cover up your unique qualities and life is complex.

What adds to the complexity is that we are not inanimate objects that God works on as He wills. We have our own will and can choose how we respond to His work in our lives. If we consent to His restoring work in our soul, then we can join Him by creating an environment that will allow him to do what only He can do in our lives.

The difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness

Making Room

For me this has meant that I make space for God to do His healing work in my life in the following ways. I accept the prayers and support of family, friends and my church family, and I am grateful for the way God meets me in those relationships. I went to see my physician and a mental health professional and rely on their expertise as they guide me in ways that encourage my physical and mental well-being.

I also meet with people who provide pastoral and spiritual care to me, and I am grateful that they understand my journey and help me to process grief through spiritual practices such as reading scripture, praying, participating in community, worship, and service.

These practises are becoming like food and water to my soul rather than the things I should do. I am discovering that I can read the Bible so that I know the “Word made flesh” more deeply and intimately. When I pray, I spend less time telling God what I want Him to do and I am learning to say as the boy Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

As I am being shaped and formed by the Holy Spirit in these practices, my life in community, my worship and my service are also changing. For example, when I spend time with others who are being restored, I am able to focus less on what we are doing and see more of who we are becoming. This allows me to hear others’ stories with compassion and grace.

Irene
Irene Ascough

I like to think that the work God is doing in me is just one small part of the work that He is doing in each of us and in all of creation. Even though the journey always has ups and downs, I am grateful that in the process of restoring my soul, I am also finding greater health in my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I trust the words of Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Irene Ascough, BN, has experience in and is passionate about health promotion. She is currently pursuing training as a spiritual director and is an active member at Kleefeld EMC.

Kevin Wiebe: Theology and Mental Illness

MHI Committee Note: Committed Christians within EMC churches lead the Mental Health Initiative (MHI). The committee believes that faith in Christ is essential for eternal life (John 3:16, 10:10, 14:6) and that there is no substitute for it (1 John 5:20). As a physician is the instrument that God uses to set a broken bone, it is ultimately God who heals the bone. So also, it is Jesus who ultimately heals our hopeless thoughts and beliefs, chemically imbalanced brains, overwhelmed emotions and broken relationships. This healing work is accomplished through any number of resources that may include doctors, medications, pastors, scripture, prayer, counselors, social workers, family and friends. As a pastor and a guest writer for the MHI, Kevin Wiebe recognizes the importance of personal faith in Christ and the delicate interplay among biological, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of each person.

by Kevin Wiebe

After a decade of full-time ministry I have met many people who lived with mental illness. How do we as Christians respond? How are we to think theologically and biblically about mental illness? Sometimes we have unhealthy theology, but thankfully there is also healthy theology. At the ministerial day in July 2015, Irma Janzen spent some time addressing this concern. This article is a condensed version of a blog post I wrote in 2015 following that session. Here are several beliefs that are in need of addressing.

The Belief that Depression is Always the Result of Sin

If everyone who sinned became depressed, then everyone in the world would suffer from depression. Even if it were a specific sin, this would still not line up with reality. While sin does influence our lives in profound ways, clinical depression is an illness, or a disease in the brain. Our spiritual lives can and do affect our physical bodies, from mental illness to heart disease.

Yet even people of incredible faith in the Bible are believed to have suffered from depression. Elijah experienced such grief and sorrow that he wished he was dead (1 Kings 17-19). The same is true of Moses (Numbers 11:15).

What we know is that no one thing causes depression. We also know that sin is not helpful for us whether we live with depression or not. We live in a fallen world, and we can no more blame depression on sin than we can asthma.

The Belief that the Only Therapy People Need is Prayer

Let me say this bluntly: I believe we all need prayer and that praying is healthy for all of us. That belief, however, does not negate my other belief that sometimes we need more than prayer. This belief is deeply rooted in the Scriptures.

James 2:14-17 reminds us that faith without works is dead. Trying to solve our neighbour’s hunger only by praying—when we have food to give—is a ridiculous notion. James 4:17 even calls it sin when we do not help when it is in our power to do so.

When someone comes to you, you can refer them to a mental health professional and in this way be a help to them. That does not negate the need for prayer because it is powerful, and many miracles have happened through prayer.

God has created us to live in a physical body. Whether it is food for the hungry, a cast for a broken bone, or medication and treatment for a mental illness, there are times we must couple prayer with physical action.

The Belief that Hallucinations and Delusions are Demonic

I will again state my beliefs bluntly in hope that you will not misunderstand me. I believe that demons are real and that they can create real problems for humanity. I also believe that “the one who is in you [God] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Colossians 2:13-15 says Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Though I believe that demons can cause problems for us, we are assured by the Scriptures that Jesus disarmed those powers, and that all who are in him can be free from such bondage. If hallucinations and delusions are demonic, then asking God to take them away is appropriate.

However, if delusions and hallucinations are the result of an illness, asking God to remove them will lead to disappointment and further blame may be put on the person who has them or the people who are praying. For many people they can be cleared up with medication.

Some street drugs have chemicals that can cause hallucinations—such chemical imbalances in the brain can cause this. The difference in mental illness is that it is not self-induced. To insist it is only spiritual places a huge burden on those who are suffering. When there is mental illness and spiritual leaders insist that it is a spiritual problem, it causes great damage and becomes spiritually abusive. It is preventing someone from receiving proper treatment for their illness and becomes negligence.

The Belief that Health and Wealth are the Ultimate Evidence of a Godly Person

This is the prosperity gospel as it applies to mental illness. My wife went years with an undiagnosed medical condition. Some people told her that she was sick because she had a weak faith.

These people believed that since God can miraculously heal people, that he always would if the person had a strong enough faith. Thus if healing did not occur, it meant that the sick person did not have a strong enough faith. Since then, my wife has received medical treatment for her condition and she doing well. God answered our prayers through the work of human medical professionals.

The idea that God answers prayers in Scripture is also deeply rooted in Scripture, from Jonah preventing catastrophe for Nineveh, or using pagan nations as a means to accomplish God’s purposes, such as Assyria and Babylon.

In the Bible, even Paul and the other apostles eventually died. No person, no matter how great their faith, was able to avoid death. Even Jesus went to the grave.

I do believe that miraculous healing can and does happen. I also believe that how we live in the midst of suffering can also reveal evidence of strong faith. Prior to my wife receiving the proper diagnosis, there were several dire possibilities. Yet her consistent faith in the midst of suffering resulted in someone coming to faith.

It seems that those who respond to suffering in Christ-like ways—both in Bible times and today—demonstrate an even greater faith than those who never have to linger in the depths of such sorrow. Since those years, my wife has received a diagnosis, along with medical treatment for her condition and she is doing very well. God answered our prayers through the work of human medical professionals.

The Belief that Human Action is Not an Answer to Prayer

Sometimes the answer to our prayers lies in the work of people—Christian or otherwise—which is an idea that is deeply rooted in Scripture. Jonah’s ministry prevented catastrophe for Nineveh. Even gentile nations were used as a means to accomplish God’s will; the nation of Assyria being used as an instrument for God’s purpose (Isaiah 10:6).

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) is a story about someone whom the Jews despised meeting the physical needs of someone else; Jesus ends it with the command to do likewise. In the same way, the help offered by mental health professionals is often a profound answer to prayer.

Theological Truths

There are also some theological truths that are extremely helpful when dealing with mental illness.

People Can Experience God’s Unconditional Love in Times of Darkness

Palm 46:1 tells us that, ”God is our refuge in time of trouble,” which means that we will have trouble. Romans 8:31-29 reminds us that nothing can separate believers from the love of God, and this love can be experienced even in times of darkness. Read the passage for yourself, and you will see that there is nothing, not even a mental illness, that can prevent God from loving you.

Even If You Are Not Cured, You Can Experience Forgiveness and Healing

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This plainly tells us that we surely can experience the amazing grace and forgiveness of God.

No matter how sick you are, how much pain you’re in, or how dark the valley is, these promises from God still hold true. You can cling to those truths even if you don’t feel them. Psalm 23 reminds us that God is with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Furthermore, God may heal you even if he doesn’t take away your illness. Healing sometimes looks different than we imagine; sometimes it is our hearts that need more healing than our bodies.

We Can Find Meaning in Suffering

God can use our suffering in profound ways. There are many stories in Scripture of God using people’s suffering in incredible ways. Joseph, David, Paul, Jesus, and many others demonstrate this in the Scriptures. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul experienced some sort of “thorn in his flesh” and though he pleaded with the Lord to have it removed, God tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). There is meaning in suffering.

The Bottom Line

kevin_wiebe
Kevin Wiebe

Discussing mental illness should not be at odds with our faith. Our response to it becomes more powerful when we view it holistically and through the lens of God’s Word, offering spiritual and emotional support even when referring people to those that can help them deal with the physiological realities of their condition. Let us acknowledge both spiritual and physical realities for the glory of God and the love of God’s people.

Kevin Wiebe, BA, is the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Stevenson/Tilbury, Ont.) and has held various administrative and educational roles in the EMC.

Peter Ascough: Does Social Media Use Affect Youth Mental Health?

Mental Health Initiative 2018

by Peter Ascough

A few years ago, the Centre for Parent and Youth Understanding (CYPU.org) put out an article entitled “Facebook Depression.” The article was discussing the impact Facebook has had as a cause of depression among teens.

We need to acknowledge that while Facebook was the first of its kind, allowing people to share, like and comment almost instantly to other people’s “posts,” it has been replaced among teens with newer social networking sites (SNS) like Instagram, Snapchat and, Twitter, while Facebook is more popular among their parents.

During this same time, I was studying Human Development at seminary and I thought I would take this investigation to a deeper level.

A Time of Change

Between the ages of 12 to18, adolescents go through many changes in development. This change in their bodies and brains can cause uncertainty and anxiety in their well-being. During this time of self-discovery, they reach out to family and friends for stability and security, for a safe place during potential emotional turmoil.

Are Social Networking Sites the place where they can find this? Does it play a part in supporting adolescents through this time or does it have the opposite effect of creating more anxiety and confusion?

During my 25 years of working with young people, I have seen many who have travelled this road of development relatively smoothly while some have found it to be a struggle. More recently, this journey is not only played out in face-to-face interaction and through personal observation but also in the public forum of social media. Status updates, comments, “likes” and photos have been used as expressions of adolescents to try to navigate the changes they are experiencing and to solicit support along the way.

I have witnessed adolescents’ statuses that are hungry for a response to tell them that they are okay, that they are normal, liked, popular and special. Some may receive many affirming comments and “likes” acknowledging and affirming their cry for acceptance while others receive little to no attention, or worse yet, negative feedback.

Relational History

If the individual’s history of relationships has been negative, there may already be some negative predisposition about their worth, which could be amplified through the vulnerability presented by posting on SNS.

Many adolescents are presenting information about themselves in the hopes that they will be liked, accepted, and that the responses will affirm how they see themselves, or want to see themselves.

Positive feedback can lead to building self-esteem and a sense of acceptance. On the other hand, negative feedback can result in lower self-esteem and perhaps trigger episodes of depression.

The constant desire for approval and the need to get “likes” or affirmations could also become addictive, resulting in more time spent chasing after these things, focusing more on only the highs and positives of life or the temptation to try risky activities either online or offline in order to report on them later.

This addiction can also result in an overall reduction of health as the youth engages in less physical activity and face-to-face interaction.

When It’s Out There, It’s Out There

The daily interactions that adolescents have at home, school, work or socially also have an impact on this struggle of finding their identity. What sets apart the act of expressing oneself on SNS in hopes of having the “right people” respond is that this expression has also been made available to everyone who is a “friend” on SNS.

When in a face-to-face situation the adolescent may have better control as to when and where others hear or see their attempts for acceptance. By posting it online, it is now available to all others whenever and wherever they may be. This may result in unwanted and negative responses, which are then also seen by others.

There is the potential for this to have a negative effect on the adolescent’s self-image and well-being. The extreme of this is what has been termed as “Cyberbullying,” where one deliberately uses digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. We have heard of the negative outcomes from those who have been victims of cyberbullying. Some have left schools, moved to new communities, and even gone as far as to die by suicide.

The fear of what another may say to or about you in a public forum can have devastating effects on a young adolescent. Unfortunately, the online society has yet to find a reasonable solution to cyberbullying; it certainly needs more time and attention.

Is the Grass Greener?

Envy can also play a factor in reducing self-esteem and an increase in anxiety. There is a tendency when posting on SNS for most users to share only positive things about themselves. The constant exposure to other people’s social activities can lead to the comparison of the user’s social life to that of their peers which over the long haul can damage one’s sense of self-worth and lead to withdrawal or depressive tendencies.

 Real Relationships

Research has shown that adolescents who are securely attached to adults show a greater resilience towards anxiety and depression as a result of participating in SNS. Whereas, those do not have secure relationships with those outside of SNS or who are already predisposed to anxiety or depression can find these symptoms heightened by participating in SNS.

Relationships outside the digital world are more significant than the ones in the digital world, even if it does not appear so. Being intentional in connecting outside of SNS will give opportunity for families, friends, and youth leaders to use SNS to enhance an already positive relationship.

Youth who are in positive, secure relationships with trusted adults are able to explore their identity and the world around them because they have formed a secure sense of acceptance with those who are important to them. As youth explore they have a safe person to return to and process what they have discovered about themselves and their world.

Finding Identity in Christ

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

We have the opportunity and obligation to help our youth discover who they are in Christ. To help them to know and understand God’s unconditional love and acceptance, that in Christ they are a new creation. That their value is not based in the opinions of others but in God who created them, loves them and gave Himself for them.

This is just the starting point of the conversation. There is much more that can be said, both positively and negatively about SNS and its impact on our youth as well as strategies to help them navigate this time of development in a digital world.

Peter-pic
Peter Ascough

SNS are a part of our young people’s reality and we need to acknowledge that there is the potential for them to be used to build up and encourage youth. My desire is that by beginning the conversation here it will continue to spark discussion.

Peter Ascough is the senior pastor at Kleefeld EMC and a member of the MHI committee. He holds a BA in religious studies (Waterloo), a Graduate Certificate in Christian Spirituality (PTS), and is working on an MA in counselling (PTS). He is married to Irene.

Dr. Chris Marchand: Caregivers, Take Care!

Mental Health Initiative 2018

An Interview About Secondary Trauma

with Dr. Chris Marchand by Irma Janzen

Irma Janzen: Secondary trauma, also called vicarious trauma, is a relatively new term for many of us. Could you give us a definition of what it is?

Chris Marchand: Secondary Trauma refers to the indirect trauma that can occur when we hear about difficult or disturbing images and stories from people who have experienced these disturbing incidents.

IJ: When and who are people susceptible to secondary trauma?

CM: It’s common with professionals and volunteers serving in health care, chaplaincy, pastoral ministry, palliative care, youth work, firefighters, lawyers studying a case, emergency response teams, policing, child and family services, teaching and/or any other role where people find themselves witnessing trauma. Typically, it brings a sense of feeling overwhelmed, perhaps even of fear or feeling sick because of what we have heard.

IJ:  What symptoms are clues for caregivers that they are nearing the brink of succumbing to secondary trauma?

CM: There are lots, but some of the more significant clues include loss of meaning connected to our caregiving (example: “What’s the point?”), loss of hope (“Nothing I do matters, so why bother?”) and loss of connection (isolation from people). Other signs include a reduced capacity for caring, decreased ability to express empathy, fear/terror, reoccurring nightmares, easily startled, paranoia, inability to say no, feeling sick when expected to care, anger/rage, burnout, and sleep problems.

The discomfort we feel when we experience Secondary Trauma can lead to a desire for comfort. Medicating behaviours are common, including an increase in alcohol or narcotic use, pornography, using food for comfort, or even increased use of technology, in an attempt to keep the traumatic thoughts or images from awareness.

IJ: What are your suggestions to help prevent secondary trauma?

CM: If we want to be present to people in pain, love them, hear them, and care for them, there will always be a risk of Secondary Trauma. There is no way to bear witness to those who have suffered inexcusable violation while fully protecting ourselves from the effects of their suffering. This is risky and painful for those who care deeply, but for Christians, it can also create a deeper bond with Jesus. When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he connects knowing Jesus with the experience of sharing in his sufferings.

Phil. 3:10 reads, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” As we share in suffering with people, as followers of Jesus, we share in the suffering Jesus himself bears for his creation.

Having said all of this, your question is valid. It would seem a wise choice if we could prevent us from succumbing to Secondary Trauma. While it cannot be easily avoided, here are a few suggestions.

  1. As Christians, we bring the pain back to Jesus. We realize it is not ours to hold and that we cannot bear it on our own.
  2. Debriefing the traumatic encounter can help to relieve the stress of the event and provide a space to express and release feelings of rage, anger, or disappointment with God.
  3. Practicing self-awareness. This is a simple, yet powerful tool for self-preservation. Paying attention to strong feelings and allowing ourselves to feel through pain can be restorative and lifegiving. When I hear stories as a pastor about child sexual abuse, rape, or violence in the family, they can make me feel sick. After a conversation that feels overwhelming to me, or leads me to feel deep sadness, I place a large letter X in my journal. Placing an X in my journal tells me I need some time to process. I do my best to take some time off, or I arrange to speak to a therapist to let go of some of my strong emotions.
  4. Nurture relationships with friends. Fatigue and isolation are major problems for those experiencing Secondary Trauma. Having friends who won’t let you sit at home alone can help.
  5. Engage in any kind of regular physical activity. It’s best if the activity is already built-in to your schedule.

IJ:  What are good ways to deal with Secondary Trauma if indeed a person has already gotten to that place?

CM: Good question.

  1. Be gentle. Experiencing Secondary Trauma is painful, but having an emotional injury is also frustrating. Let me explain. If you’re working in your garage and you hit your thumb with the hammer, you immediately change your behaviour. You easily associate the pain in your thumb with the head of the hammer. This helps you to understand why your thumb is throbbing and it helps you with your response. An emotional injury is often baffling. People feel the pain, but there’s no hammer.

Example: During a long death-oriented conversation, you hear a friend say, “I’m sick of living. No one would even care if I went missing. Maybe I should just kill myself.” That friend does not attempt suicide, but a few days later you feel restless; you can’t sleep. You feel afraid for what seems like no reason at all. You think about your day, what you ate, what you saw on TV. It doesn’t make sense.

Secondary Trauma can show up in our feelings and behaviours days after the traumatic event. Things can be even more intense if you’ve had a friend die by suicide. You might be terrified, even obsessed with keeping your friend safe. Secondary Trauma might be even more intense if you yourself have experienced thoughts of suicide, or have attempted to end your life.

The trauma of that conversation might actually lead to some of the symptoms or medicating behaviours listed above. When the temptation to medicate feelings strikes you a week after the traumatic event, it’s often treated as a moral failure or a spiritual problem to be confessed. It’s rarely treated like the normal personal consequences of caring deeply for someone in pain.

  1. Education. Awareness is powerful. The more we know about Secondary Trauma, the faster we can recognize the symptoms in our own lives. This is not a terminal illness. We can heal through Secondary Trauma although the experience of feeling wounded by trauma never fully leaves us. Get help. Find a caring therapist who understands Secondary Trauma and can help you heal.

 IJ: Other questions or comments you want to add.

CM: Sometimes people will gravitate to God, recognizing their need for strength. At other times, people who really love the Lord will find themselves overwhelmed with anger at God, asking questions like, “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” Those folks need grace.

They need Christians in their life to understand that they’re now living with an emotional injury. They will likely never be able to see God as they once did. This is painful and sad to watch. When we sit with people who’ve experienced trauma, we might find ourselves asking, “Who is God now?” Before we experienced this pain, we thought we knew. We thought our vibrant relationship with God was enough to sustain us, but sometimes it’s not.

My first funeral was for a family who lost a three-day-old baby. I was a 25-year-old pastoral intern. I’d never experienced pain like I saw that day as I stood beside the grave with those parents. I’ve had many more experiences like this one now, and each time it makes me wonder again about the character of God. It’s not that I don’t want to follow Jesus. It’s just that trauma has a way of reorienting our theology.

Irma
Irma Janzen
Chris
Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand, DMin (Pastoral Care), has taught in the area of youth ministries at Providence University College and Theological Seminary, served as a pastor (most recently at Niverville Community Fellowship), and led many workshops about self-care for caregivers. He is currently the director of Red Rock Bible Camp in Manitoba.

Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.

Note: Chris will be teaching some of this material in an upcoming SBC course called “Self-care for Caregivers” on Oct. 11-13. See the details: http://sbcollege.ca/events/2018-10-11-co210-self-care-caregivers

Heidi Dirks: Anxiety in Youth – Journeying Towards Freedom

by Heidi Dirks 

Note: This article is intended to provide general information and is not a substitute for professional assessment and interventions.

Picture This

You’ve spent the past two hours hiking and are almost at your destination, a high rock overlooking a gleaming, teal blue lake. As you approach the lake you see a large bear. You stop in your tracks, you feel your heart begin to pound, and you start to breathe quickly.

You’re sitting in class, listening to the teacher talk about Canada’s Confederation, when you hear the teacher say your name. Your mind goes blank and you feel like you can’t move or speak. You’re quickly able to focus, and you ask the teacher to repeat the question.

You feel a lot of fear at the thought of going on the city bus and being in a crowd. You do whatever you can to avoid leaving your house; and when you do go out, you take your sister with you. You feel nauseous and lightheaded the whole time, and you get back home as soon as possible. This has been going on for over six months now, and is making it nearly impossible to go to school.

About Anxiety

Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety is a normal response to a situation that is dangerous, like exiting a burning building, or a situation where we need to be alert and prepared, such as an important presentation at work. But when someone experiences extreme anxiety about everyday situations that are not dangerous and this interferes with their life, they need additional supports to address the anxiety in their life.

In the three scenarios above it sounds like the person is experiencing some anxiety. When anxiety is in response to danger or an everyday situation that you are able to work through, like in the first two scenarios, the anxiety is a normal part of being human. But when the anxiety is not a response to danger, and it is interfering with your life, you likely need some more supports.

Anxiety as a Mental Illness

Anxiety can be experienced in different ways, and anxiety disorders all contain elements of disordered physical responses, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Anxiety may be seen through fear, such as fear of an object or being in specific situations. Anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is used by medical professionals in North America to diagnose mental illnesses.

Some examples of anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Individuals with GAD experience excessive worry about life events that they cannot control. PTSD includes experiences of nightmares, flashbacks, and changes in their mood, among other symptoms. People with OCD will have obsessions that make them anxious which lead them to engage in behaviours (compulsions) to lower that anxiety.

Anxiety in Youth

Up to 25% of youth experience a mental health struggle or illness, with many of them not getting the help they need. The good news is that there are many resources that can help individuals to learn to cope with and lessen their anxiety. Professionals, including doctors and therapists, can help and be an important part of overcoming anxiety. A doctor may diagnose an anxiety disorder and prescribe medication. A therapist can help you learn to work through the anxiety you feel and develop healthy coping strategies. Self-help workbooks, such as those based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can help you become aware of how your thoughts impact your feelings and behaviours. Faith communities can provide supports and help you remember God’s truth about your worth.

Coping Strategies

Being told to just stop feeling anxious isn’t going to help. Anxiety doesn’t go away instantly, but there are many strategies that you may find helpful if you are feeling anxious. Slow, calm breathing can help to calm your body and lower anxiety.

Anxiety is often based on the future or past, so strategies to be in the present moment can also help to lower anxiety. Become aware of your thoughts and self-talk, and challenge thoughts that aren’t true or are reinforcing your anxiety. People may find that music, art, animals, and being in nature can help when they’re feeling anxious.

It’s also important to eat and exercise in healthy ways and get enough sleep. Pay attention to any unhealthy ways you are coping with anxiety, such as using caffeine, non-prescription drugs, alcohol, food, tobacco, compulsive exercise or sleeping to escape anxiety. These may seem to provide immediate relief but they may contribute to long-term problems.

Anxiety in a Biblical Worldview

In both Scripture and our lived experiences we are reminded that the world is not how it was created to be. Sin has impacted all aspects of the world, and this is seen is in our disordered thoughts and behaviours. Christians struggle with mental illnesses, including anxiety. Anxiety is not a sin, nor is it a reflection of someone’s relationship with God. The good news of Jesus is that through his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God, and that God is working to redeem his creation.

A wholistic and multi-faceted approach to dealing with anxiety is important, and Christians may want to intentionally include spiritual practices in their lives as part of coping with anxiety. Christians can be intentional to focus their thoughts about themselves on the truth of who we are in Jesus, and that we have inherent worth and dignity as image bearers of God. We can spend time in nature, meditate on scripture and though prayer, listen to uplifting music, and spend time with supportive friends and family. Parents can connect their children to needed supports, and help them to discover what strategies help them cope with and lower their anxiety.

Scripture and Anxiety

When quoting Scripture to comfort or instruct people struggling with anxiety, be cautious to use Scripture in context to bring freedom, rather than to condemn or give overly simplistic answers. Philippians 4:6-7 may be one of the more frequently quoted verses about anxiety. When it is used to tell someone to stop what they are feeling it may cause increased anxiety for not being able to stop feeling anxious, or it may lead to strained interpersonal relationships if scripture is seen as a simplistic or judgmental answer to a difficult and complex experience. When read in context scripture can be an important resource to people struggling with anxiety, but it is not enough to relieve an anxiety disorder. People struggling with anxiety disorders also needs the support of mental health professionals, and possibly medication, to address their anxiety.

In verses like Philippians 4:6 we see the contrast between prayer and anxiety. We are invited to focus on God and his truth rather than focusing on our problems. This focus does not negate the seriousness or real pain of our problems, nor does it necessarily solve those problems. When we focus on God we are reminded that the Gospel is good news for all people, that we are set apart for a special purpose (1 Cor. 6:11), our sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9), and through Jesus we have eternal life (John 3:16). We see that there is truth beyond ourselves, that God is at work in the world, and we look forward to Jesus’ return.

If you want to read more about anxiety, and how to support youth who are struggling, check out the following websites:

 

Heidi-Dirks
Heidi Dirks

www.anxietybc.com

www.cmha.ca (Canadian Mental Health Association)

Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counselling), is a member of the EMC’s Mental Health Initiative committee and the Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Aberdeen EMC.

MacGregor EMC: A Day Well Spent

by Menno Hamm

MacGREGOR, Man. – Several factors led to a workshop on mental health taking place at MacGregor EMC on April 28. Pastor Russell Doerksen is a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries (BCM), which decided to provide a focus on mental health during 2018. Consequently recent issues of The Messenger featured articles on the theme.

At a ministerial meeting the pastor introduced the idea of sponsoring such a workshop in our church. The ministerial readily approved, as did the church board. Contact with the BCM resulted in their offering to provide workshop leaders for the event.

Pastor Russell opened the workshop, welcoming the 41 persons present, almost half of whom were from outside our church. Daniel Dacombe, the first of four presenters, led an informative session relating the ABC’s of mental health issues. He noted a rather alarming trend among Canadian youth, stating that an increasing number of Canadian teens are experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

Peter and Irene Ascough followed with a helpful session focusing on tips and activities to maintain one’s mental health. Their comments, based on their training and experience, demonstrated that preventing an illness is preferable to trying to cure one.

Following a lunch break of pizza, salad, and fruit, Heidi Dirks’ session for adults only dealt with mental imbalance among youth that can lead to incidences of self-harm. The day closed with group discussions, using case studies to develop strategies to talk to troubled youth and seek help for them.

Those participating in the workshop agreed it was a day well spent. Already there is talk of holding more such workshops elsewhere in the community.

 

Daniel Dacombe: Substance Use and Addiction: What Can the Church Do?

Mental Health Initiative 2018

by Daniel Dacombe

In my years of helping youth and families with mental health issues, some of the most challenging issues I have seen those families face are those involving substance use and addiction. With physical illnesses we as a church are supportive; with mental illnesses we tend to be understanding. With harmful substance use and addiction, though, some people tend to experience more judgment and shame in Christian circles.

There are a number of reasons for this, and I believe it is important to understand these reasons if we are to give the best quality of help and support to individuals dealing with substance use issues. One reason is that Christians, and the various forms of the Mennonite church especially, have historically discouraged substance use.

Passages from the Bible discouraging drunkenness are cited in support of a life lived without substances, or, at least, with only moderate substance use (usually alcohol only). From this perspective, individuals who develop issues with alcohol or other drugs may be looked down on as merely suffering the consequences of personal sin.

However, the reality of addiction is much more complex. With harmful substance use, individuals can act in ways that are damaging to themselves and their loved ones. These actions often seem out of character; individuals who are normally loving and upstanding members of society seem to become complexly different people when they are in the grips of an addiction.

They may even say that they want to change, but seem unable to despite the negative consequences they experience. Are these dangerous behaviours all really the result of poor choices? Or is there something more going on? 

Substance Use and Addiction in Canada

In order to unpack these complex issues, let us first define what we are talking about for the purpose of this article.

A drug is any substance not food that can cause changes to how our body and/or mind are working.

Harmful substance use is using one or more drugs in a way that causes problems for us in our lives.

Addiction means continuing with harmful substance use in spite of the consequences one experiences, often with significant distress and failed attempts to quit or reduce use.

It might also be helpful to take a look at some recent Canadian statistics on the subject:

  • According to research conducted in 2012, approximately 1.4 million people or 4.4% of Canadians met the criteria for a substance use disorder.
  • Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience or substance use disorders than any other age group.
  • At least 20% of people with a mental illness also have a substance use problem.
  • Men have higher rates of addiction than women.

The total societal cost of substance use has been estimated to be $39.8 billion or $1,267 for every Canadian. Legal substances, tobacco and alcohol, account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance use. (All statistics are taken from CAMH and CCSA.)

The costs of substance use and addiction are not just economic. There are many personal costs as well—consequences to physical and mental health, job loss, family breakdown, even death. The fact that many people continue to use substances in a harmful way despite those costs suggests that there is more to the issue than someone simply making bad choices—addiction is real.

It is a real experience for many people in Canada and around the world, and the effects can be anywhere from debilitating to deadly. But as real as it is, it is still a mystery to many people. What exactly is an addiction, and how does it develop?

Understanding Addiction

Throughout history, there have been many different models used to understand addiction and addictive behaviours. One such model is the Temperance Model, popular in the 19th century, which is a view that places the blame for addiction on the substance directly. Alcohol and other drugs are evil, or sinful, and exposure to them causes people to succumb to temptation and ruin their lives.

The problem with this view is that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do so responsibly and with no harm done to their lives. It is a minority of drinkers who use alcohol harmfully.

A later model of addiction was the Disease Model, which was popular during the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous. This view states that certain individuals have a “brain disease” of addiction or alcoholism that causes them to develop issues with substances. One issue with this view, though, is that it ignores the complicated personal, family, and environmental issues that can contribute to someone developing a problem with substance use.

The current theory on addiction is one called the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. This model acknowledges that substance use and addiction issues are complex and may have multiple causes, including biological (genetic or brain issues), psychological (disordered thinking or mental illness), or social (family or environmental issues).

This model is supported by research into substance use issues and has become the most commonly used model in addiction treatment today. One of the most important things this model can teach us is that addiction and harmful substance use are not merely the results of poor personal choices or giving in to temptation. They develop because of a wide variety of factors, many of which are outside of the individual’s control. 

What Can the Church Do to Help?

People living with substance use issues and their loved ones are often at risk of falling through gaps in our communities, suffering silently and alone. There are several things that members of the church can do to help prevent this from happening. Mennonite groups have even worked with individuals dealing with the effects of substance use issues, including programs through the Mennonite Central Committee such as El’Dad Ranch.

As far as community agencies go, the church is perfectly poised to step in and “fill the gaps,” and I would like to share a few ideas about what this could look like.

Start with compassion. Remember, individuals dealing with harmful substance use or addiction may be suffering greatly and struggling with changing their circumstances. The church has a ready-made response for situations such as this. It’s called grace.

Provide support. As the church, we are typically good at supporting people in our midst who are suffering. We make food. We help with bills. We show up. How amazing would it be if we did that not only for the people in our lives who have physical illnesses, but for those who deal with mental illnesses and addiction as well?

Encourage access to services. Harmful substance use and addiction are issues that can’t be tackled alone. Encourage your loved ones to seek help, to find a counsellor, or to access addiction services in your area.

Dan-Dacombe
Daniel Dacombe

Finally, don’t lose hope. Having someone in your life dealing with harmful substance use and addiction can be both disheartening and frustrating. Don’t lose hope. Many people have overcome these issues in the past. It does, however, take time and help. If you are feeling overwhelmed while you are supporting your loved one, don’t be afraid to reach out for help for yourself.

Daniel Dacombe has worked with youth for nearly fifteen years, including at Youth for Christ. He has attended Providence College and Seminary for social sciences and counselling education. He attends Heartland Community Church and lives with his wife, two daughters, and a very large dog. 

 For information on addictions services in your area, please visit the following websites:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-abuse/get-help/get-help-with-drug-abuse.html

http://www.ccdus.ca/Eng/Pages/Addictions-Treatment-Helplines-Canada.aspx