Mental Health for Today
April 26, 2021
Some friends of ours learned that one of their very close friends had passed away. It happened very quickly. The person was diagnosed with COVID-19 and within 10 days he had died. It was unthinkable. The person had been strong and healthy, with no presenting issues. He had plans for the future.
These kinds of things have happened over and over in recent days. One of the challenges as a result is maintaining mental health. Handling and processing the losses that all of us have experienced over the last 15 months has made us angrier, edgier, more cynical, and less trusting.
Mental health affects our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Our mental health determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It’s vital to every stage of life. Throughout your lifetime, experiencing mental health problems affects your moods, thinking, and behavior.
Doctors tell us that many factors contribute to mental health problems, including 1) biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, 2) life experiences, such as trauma or abuse, and 3) a family history of mental health problems.
Mental health problems are not a death sentence. Help is available. People with mental health problems can get better and even recover completely. The earlier you realize the struggle, the better. Experts tell us that experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
Positive mental health is important because it allows people to…
- Realize their full potential
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Work productively
- Make meaningful contributions to their communities
They also tell us that ways to maintain positive mental health include…
- Getting professional help if you need it
- Connecting with others
- Staying positive
- Getting physically active
- Helping others
- Getting enough sleep
- Developing coping skills
What we all need in this time where we have experienced so much grief, however, is hope in the midst of grief. We are always going to experience loss and grief, and our response must be different than the typical if we are to thrive and have true hope.
GriefShare is a wonderful organization that helps people recover from loss. I want to share a short summary of their resource, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. I believe it can help us all right now.
Suffering and pain cause many people to turn their backs on God. You know people who have done that, and perhaps even you have headed that direction. How do we face suffering face-to-face with God rather than turning our backs on God?
In finding God’s healing for life’s losses, we have two basic options: We can turn to the world’s way, or we can follow the way of God’s Word. Students of human grief have developed various models that track typical grief responses. Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book, On Death and Dying, popularized a five-stage model of grieving based on her research into how terminally ill persons respond to the news of their terminal illness. Her five stages have since been used worldwide to describe all grief responses:
Denial: This is the shock reaction. “It can’t be true.” “No, not me.” We refuse to believe what happened.
Anger: Resentment grows. “Why me?” “Why my child?” “This isn’t fair!” We direct blame toward God, others, and ourselves. We feel agitated, irritated, moody, and on edge.
Bargaining: We try to make a deal, insisting that things be the way they used to be. “God, if You heal my little girl, then I’ll never drink again.” We call a temporary truce with God.
Depression: Now we say, “Yes, me.” The courage to admit our loss brings sadness (which can be healthy mourning and grieving) and/or hopelessness (which is unhealthy mourning and grieving).
Acceptance: Now we face our loss calmly. It is a time of silent reflection and regrouping. “Life has to go on. How? What do I do now?”
The stages in the grief process are tracking typical grief responses. However, they do not attempt to evaluate whether or not this is what should be. Neither can scientific research say whether these responses correspond to God’s process for hurting and hoping. We must understand something about research and knowledge in a fallen world. At best, it describes the typical process. It cannot prescribe what should occur. Human nature is affected by the fallenness of our nature and of our world.
Dallas Willard explains it so well: “Secular psychology is not in an ‘at-best’ set of circumstances. The question of who we are and what we are here for is not an easy one, of course. For those who must rely upon a strictly secular viewpoint for insight, such questions are especially tough. Why? Because we do in fact live in a world in ruins. We do not exist now in the element for which we were designed. So in light of that truth, it’s essentially impossible to determine our nature by observation alone because we are only seen in a perpetually unnatural position.”
Understanding the limitations of research, and believing in the reliability of Scripture, we can focus on a revelation-based model. We can evaluate the typical five stages of grieving, but we can move beyond them with spiritual resources.
The biblical approach to grieving and growing identifies eight scriptural “stages” in our responses to life’s losses. God’s way equips us to move through hurt to hope in Christ—from grieving to growing. This program calls it “Biblical Sufferology”—a wise and relevant understanding of suffering.
Sustaining in Suffering: Stages of Hurt – It’s Normal to Hurt and Necessary to Grieve
- Stage One — Typical Grief Response: Denial/Isolation.
Biblical Grief Response: Candor (Honesty with Myself).
- Stage Two — Typical Grief Response: Anger/Resentment.
Biblical Grief Response: Complaint (Honesty with God).
- Stage Three — Typical Grief Response: Bargaining/Works.
Biblical Grief Response: Cry (Asking God for Help).
- Stage Four — Typical Grief Response: Depression/Alienation.
Biblical Grief Response: Comfort (Receiving God’s Help).
Healing in Suffering: Stages of Hope – It’s Possible to Hope and Supernatural to Grow
- Stage Five — Typical Acceptance Response: Regrouping.
Biblical Growth Response: Waiting (Trusting with Faith).
- Stage Six — Typical Acceptance Response: Deadening.
Biblical Growth Response: Wailing (Groaning with Hope).
- Stage Seven — Typical Acceptance Response: Despairing/Doubting.
Biblical Growth Response: Weaving (Perceiving with Grace).
- Stage Eight — Typical Acceptance Response: Digging Cisterns.
Biblical Growth Response: Worshipping (Engaging with Love).
The first four stages involve sustaining in suffering, which is explored in chapters two through five of God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. The second four stages relate to healing in suffering, which is explored in chapters six through nine.
Always remember that these “stages” are a relational process, not perfectly-in-order steps. Grieving and growing is not a neat, nice package. It isn’t tidy. Grieving and growing is messy because life is messy. Moving through hurt to hope is a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward journey. We don’t “conquer a stage” and never return to it.
Rather than thinking of a straight, step-by-step route, imagine a three-dimensional maze with many possible paths, frequent detours, backtracking, and even the ability to experience more than one “stage” at the same time. However, positive movement is possible. In fact, it is promised. You can find God’s healing for your losses. You can find hope in your hurt.
Whatever your grieving experience has been like up to this point, don’t quit. Don’t give up.
Join the journey. Experience the biblical reality that it’s normal to hurt and necessary to grieve. Learn how to move from denial to personal honesty (candor), from anger to honesty with God (complaint), from bargaining to asking God for help (crying out), and from depression to receiving God’s help (comfort).
Stay on the path. Experience the biblical reality that it’s possible to hope and supernatural to grow. Learn how to move from regrouping to trusting with faith (waiting on God), from deadening to groaning with hope (wailing to God), from despair to perceiving with grace (weaving in God’s truth), and from digging cisterns to engaging with love (worshipping God and ministering to others).
God truly does provide you with everything you need for life and godliness. Through the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God, you have all you need for your healing journey.
You need to have a growing, hopeful journey through grief. You need help. GriefShare can add to this and help you. Visit newpointe.org/care or call the church for information on the next session.