We may not label these struggles as depression or anxiety, but few of us talk openly about what we are going through and even fewer seek professional help. I believe there are many reasons for this, including what I call ‘boys don’t cry syndrome’. We are raised to be strong, not weak or vulnerable. As we get older there is added pressure to keep things together, especially when we are in positions of leadership. This may apply in the context of family or ministry. It’s difficult to be vulnerable and an example at the same time.
Added to this, there is often a stigma attached to mental health. I recognise that as people of faith we shouldn’t be depressed or anxious. The key words here is shouldn’t. The fact is, many of us go through depression or anxiety for a number of reasons. The Bible says “do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25), but it’s not always that simple.
As responsible leaders we worry about whether we are leading God’s people in the right way, whether we are responsibly guiding the children God has given us. Some of us also have other pressures and obligations to meet, such as paying bills.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that many of us men struggle to talk. We are all familiar with phrases such as “man up”, so perhaps it’s ingrained in us that we are to be ‘doers’ not ‘talkers’. We’d rather fix our problems than talk about them.
The Church should be a safe space where we can talk things through and cast off our burdens without fear of being judged or denigrated. Are we developing relationships that allow people to be open and vulnerable about the struggles they are facing? Would you know if that person you see in church each week was experiencing depression or anxiety? Would you know what to say or do?
Our families should also be safe spaces where we can express ourselves freely, but some of us are unable to express ourselves fully and openly in our family settings. This may be down to the way we were raised. Perhaps we weren’t allowed or encouraged to challenge authority or say how we really felt. We had to say and do the right thing.
I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, and based on my experience and observations many parents are now raising their children to be more expressive. I think it all starts with communication. If we can learn to communicate in our families and teach our children to communicate openly and effectively, maybe we can prevent some of these issues. Even if we can’t always prevent them, this may stop the consequences being so dire.