Last week was mental health awareness week and the theme this year is Nature.
Ideally I would have posted this blog earlier, last week or even at the beginning of this week – but one of the things I have learnt is that stress triggers depression in me so I make sure I don’t let myself get over-stressed or pressured. This blog is one of the things that didn’t get done. But I did manage to submit an article for the Church Corner of a local paper and a school assembly on the Monday of that week on the subject of hope.
I attended a quiet day for the Community of Chaplains of Lichfield Diocese recently. The theme was Bearers of Hope. I didn’t learn anything new but as is often the case on occasions like this I was reminded of things I already knew and given the chance to think and reflect on my ministry as a chaplain. A small percentage of my time is as Chaplain at JCB Academy – a school for years 9 up to sixth form.
I thought I would share some of the thoughts I took from the quiet day for you to apply to your life as a Christian in general and especially if you are supporting someone in difficult times. On the quiet day it was suggested that we went for a walk purposely looking out for images of hope. The first thing that I noticed was a ladder on the bank of the river.
Presumably, it was there for someone to get into and out of a boat. The bank was very steep. I thought about how we are sometimes in the depths of despair or depressed and we need someone or something to help us climb up out of it. Or as the psalmist puts it “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” (Psalm 40:1-2, NRSV).
I was reminded of a game of snakes and ladders. Sometimes depression can be like that – life is going along OK and something happens to tip you over into depression …. down the snake, back in the gloom of being down. At times like that we need a ‘ladder’ to get us up. Medication can help, as can talking things over with someone who is accepting of us as we are.
Further along the river was a rope tied to a post dangling in the river, presumably to aid someone to climb up the bank out of a boat.
I can help someone have the courage to take the help offered to climb up out of despair, simply by being with them. Or I can point out where they can get help, and then as they access the help ‘hold the ladder’ by encouraging them and being with them.
Further along my walk I saw buds on a tree that had a sapling growing in a damaged part of the trunk.
I also saw a newly ploughed field ready for sowing the next crop.
They reminded me of the seasons, of there being a time for everything, and of the way that new life does come, even in the most unexpected places.
Research by The Mental Health Foundation found that turning to nature; whether that be by going for a walk, spending time in our gardens or simply listening to birdsong, has been one of the top coping strategies.
There are many powerful benefits of nature to our mental health, such as:
reduction of stress
increase in creativity and empathy
improved physical health and self esteem
Some people are not sure how to help someone who is depressed – in the depths of despair – and they may, with the best intentions, offer advice or try to make them better. But sometimes it is better to not try to fix the problem, but to point out where they might find professional help if they are not already accessing it. Simply being there, accepting, loving, and supporting them is important and can make a positive difference, as well as pointing out signs of hope and improvement when we see them.
I could go into tweaking this (am adding this bit about a week after finishing the post). I hadn’t published as I ran out of time to do the tags etc. But perfectionism is something to avoid. So I am going to click on ‘publish’ and get ready to go for a walk in the beautiful countryside to relax and recharge my batteries. What better way to spend a day off?