Last night's evening service was a very cursory look at one or two aspects of mental health and Christian faith. As part of it, I shared four true stories, which I'm sharing here:
Liz comes from a well-off family, her father is a banker and the family enjoy a good standard of living. Despite this, even as a young child Liz suffered from anxiety, being terrified of the dark, afraid of drowning and worried lest any of her family should die. Her fears were justified when her mother died when she was just fourteen years old, by which time she had begun to experience bouts of depression and struggled to believe there could be a loving God. In her late teens she had a dramatic conversion experience and became very involved in her local church. Liz married young and has a large family; sadly almost every pregnancy brought with post-natal depression, and she finds motherhood very difficult. She undertakes high profile work in areas of women’s justice which means she travels extensively in the UK and Europe. She tries to keep her mental health private, and fears being found out.
Dot comes from a decent working-class home, where money has always quite tight, but she knew she was well loved by her parents and siblings. She has been a regular churchgoer since childhood. Her husband has worked incredibly hard to improve his education, learn new skills and is well respected; although he clearly loves Dot, she feels inferior and, when his work meant travelling overseas, she was very reluctant to move so far from everyone and everything she knows. Initially, the family was quite cut off from other Britons, but they now live in a small ex-pat community. However, Dot’s mental health has suffered hugely, and she experiences delusional psychoses in which she is convinced her husband is having affairs. Being on her own with him is dangerous for both of them, as she becomes violent and has threatened him with a knife on more than one occasion. She remains in her own home, where she has to be supervised at all times. Her husband is bewildered and fears for their children. He has some, limited, support from the few church folk who are aware of the situation.
Mary was born in South Africa, where her parents are missionaries. She fell in love with a young missionary who had recently arrived there and, to the obvious disapproval of her parents, married him. The young couple travelled quite extensively together but once a family arrived, it was agreed that Mary would take the children back to his homeland where his family could care for them. This proved disastrous. The culture shock alone was huge, but Mary and her in-laws did not get on at all, indeed, so catastrophic was the endeavour that she took the children hundreds of miles away to live. Mary was by now at a very low ebb, possibly with mild to moderate depression. Lonely and isolated, she sought solace in the odd glass of wine, which soon led her to a degree alcohol dependency. Eventually she and the in-laws were reconciled, her health recovered and she has returned to Africa to spend time travelling with her husband.
If you met Charlie, you would almost certainly be struck by his confident demeanour, hearty laugh and mischievous sense of humour. This father of two is a hardworking Baptist minister who combines pastoral responsibilities with serving a children’s charity in a very deprived area of London. But appearances can be deceptive. If you were to ask the deacons of his church, you would discover that Charlie is a bag of nerves on a Sunday morning, so much so that he sometimes feels quite unwell before the service starts. Since his mid-thirties, he has suffered from chronic pain which is tiring and debilitating. He also suffers from recurrent bouts of depression so bad that he has to take time off from church in order to recover. His workaholic tendencies and physical condition combined with his nervous temperament contribute to the pressure he puts on himself and almost certainly trigger his depressive episodes.
Four people living with mental health issues.
Do you recognise any of them?
They, or their partners, are well-known Christian figures.
Liz – Elizabeth Fry, Quaker evangelist and prison reformer
Dot – Dorothy (Dolly) Carey, wife of William Carery, pioneer missionary in India
Mary – Mary Moffatt Livingston, wife of missionary explorer, David Livingston
Charlie – Charles Haddon Spurgeon