The number of people affected by anxiety and depression have been rising over the past decade. The isolation and stress of COVID only served to exacerbate this already alarming trend. The chronic stress of daily life has been leading to emotional exhaustion, with the greatest impact on the younger generations. As the level of stress continues to rise, emotional exhaustion can overwhelm our ability to cope. Unable to cope, anxiety or depression can begin to grow. In 2019, prior to COVID, approximately 26% , or one in four, of American adults had a treatable mental health disorder. The percentage of children ages 6-17 was 16.5%, or one in six children. After COVID, these numbers increased dramatically with a 95% increase in anxiety and a 62% increase in depression. One positive development, however, has been increasing awareness of this often overlooked problem.
Emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression are not constrained by age, gender, race, social status, or occupation. Yet, less than half of the people affected by these conditions are receiving the help they need. This may explain why suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 10-34. Why aren’t people receiving the help they need? Mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders remain highly stigmatized. People are afraid of being labeled, labels risk stereotyping and discrimination. It affects not just how others view them, but how they view themselves as well. Our society encourages us to maintain appearances, even if we’re falling apart inside. This causes the perception that these problems are a sign of weakness.
Even though we all want to be “normal”, the truth is that there is no such thing. God created each of us to be amazingly complex and unique. With these complex differences and unique life experiences, we will each face different obstacles. Depression grows from doubts in our self-worth, and anxiety grows from our fears. These are not rare or uncommon emotions, but they can be isolating. Believing that everyone else has it together leaves you feeling alone and isolated. If we are left alone to dwell on self-destructive thoughts our mental health will quickly deteriorate.
We weren’t meant to be alone. We were made to be in relationship with each other and with our heavenly Father. Who needs hope more than the hopeless? Who needs peace more than the fearful? No one needs to know the love, hope, and peace found in Jesus Christ more than the people who are hurting. As much as we may need someone to speak love and truth into our lives, we hesitate to share or pain. Even within the church we frequently continue to wear a mask. As believers in Christ we feel like we shouldn’t experience these problems. So if we do, those feelings are compounded by feelings of guilt. Our inability to heal ourselves through prayer and scripture makes us feel like we have failed. So we keep things to ourselves, afraid to share when we’re hurting. But no one is exempt from experiencing despair, hopelessness, grief, worry, fear, or stress. It can even impact those that we lean on most, like our pastors. As a church we should be reaching out to show these people they are not alone. As a church we need to start being honest with each other… and ourselves. We can all become overwhelmed by the storms of life.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”Matthew 14:29-30
Like Peter, we can grow fearful as the waves are crashing around us. Without help we begin to sink into despair and hopelessness. We can’t save ourselves when we’re drowning, we have to reach out. What did Jesus do when Peter called for help?
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”Matthew 14:31
What can we learn from this story? First, we must humble ourselves to ask for help when are sinking. We can’t expect to receive help without asking. There is no shame in admitting that we need help. Instead of weakness, this vulnerability is a sign of strength. Likewise, when we have received help we should openly share those experiences with others. There is encouragement in knowing you are not alone. Paul frequently shared his hardships to offer encouragement to others.
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.2 Corinthians 11:23-30
Second, we have been called to be Jesus’s hands and feet in this world. If someone calls out for help we should reach out immediately to help lift them up. We should be offering concern and support, rather than judgment and shame. Our focus should be on the best way to lift that person up, so they can receive the help they need. Prayer and scripture are vital for keeping us anchored and for providing hope. But other people who provide therapy or medication may be some of the tools God provides for our healing. No one should feel ashamed to utilize them. If we will treat each other with compassion and empathy, the broken-hearted can begin to heal. Through strengthened relationships, honest conversation, and reliance on our Heavenly Father we can become stronger than we ever thought possible. Call out to God and let him rescue you, you are not alone.