The word is out. After decades of chronic misconceptions, the impact and severity of mental health issues has finally been recognised as an issue worth taking seriously. Indeed, such has been the recognition of the scale of the problem that the words 'mental health crisis' are being bandied around with increasing frequency. But is this simply an over exaggeration?
On the weight of the evidence, no. In 2021, the Boston University School of Public Health revealed that throughout the pandemic the rate of depression among Americans grew by almost 20%, with depression now affecting one in every three US adults.
In a survey conducted by Glorify - a faith-based prayer app - in Argentina, 90% of respondents said that they suffered from either stress, anxiety, insomnia or depression. In the UK, a study by University College London found that symptoms of depression such as low mood, loss of pleasure and poor concentration in adolescents had increased by 6% after the pandemic began.
However, while the world is now in agreement about the severity of mental health issues, solving them - and the factors which cause them - remains a challenge. So, what are these factors?
Absence of mindfulness
Mental health problems can be attributed to a number of contributing elements, but some of the most impactful ones appear to be focused on the current pace and structure of contemporary society. Remember when you were able to take a moment to gather your thoughts several times a day and reflect on how you were feeling? Me neither. Almost without notice, we have all been suffering from the loss of our quiet time.
Every minute of our day is now filled with work and looking after the family and home. In our free time, we find ourselves constantly plugged in, watching the latest episode of our favourite shows on Netflix, or scrolling through social media to find some relief in cat videos and memes.
People are neurobiologically wired to need moments of mindfulness to balance our nervous systems and quieten our minds, allowing us to decompress and avoid stimulating our brains. But in a culture with zero-hour contracts and hours of entertainment just a touch of the button away, we have become like hamsters in wheels, pushing our brains into survival mode at all times.
Lack of community
People are also neurologically wired to be part of a community. In the past, we found our relationships in our local churches and neighbourhoods. But falling church attendance rates, increased geographical mobility and most recently the pandemic have led to increased social isolation and loneliness. The immediate halt of our 100mph lifestyles during lockdown only exacerbated the problem, challenging how we identified ourselves and eroding the relational building blocks in our communities.
In a bid to combat mental health problems, many of us have sought news ways to de-stress through therapy, yoga and meditation, to give but a few examples. It comes as no surprise that some surveys have suggested that younger generations are becoming more spiritual. But where secularists have turned more to new age practices, Christians have turned to prayer and the church.
According to a Gallup poll in February 2022, weekly churchgoers in the US are significantly more likely than non-churchgoers to say they are 'very satisfied' with their personal life. In addition, weekly churchgoers are more likely to say that they are very satisfied with their personal life than those who make over $100,000 annually. So, what's the secret?
Combining therapy with theology
In a fascinating twist, the foundational underpinnings of much of the modern neuroscience that therapists use to help those struggling with their mental health can be found in the Bible. Links between the two are rich in number all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and they centre around love.
Our brains thrive when we feel loved, accepted and connected, dwelling in an environment of unconditional love. This is the environment in which the Bible enables its readers to dwell in places such as John 10:11-17.
One of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the last 50 years is that our brains are neuroplastic, or, in layman's terms, that they are flexible and can rewire themselves. This is described to some degree in both Romans 8 - living according to the Spirit instead of the flesh – and Philippians 4:8-9.
To help enable us to take control of our quiet times again and support those struggling with their mental health, the Glorify app has developed a series of blogs and app features for Mental Health Awareness Month. These focus on managing anxiety, overcoming shame, dealing with depression, loneliness and the pressure to be perfect.
When we find ourselves engaging in habits that lead us to that hamster wheel, it is an outward sign that something inward is deficient. It is an invitation from God for us to take a moment to relax, reflect and seek him for relief. His love and presence can powerfully impact our wellbeing, making us feel connected, de-stressed and able to take our brains out of survival mode.
Joanna Hargreaves, therapist and mental health content creator for Glorify. Glorify and its mental health content are available to download for free on iOS or Android. For more information on the Glorify app, visit: www.glorify-app.com.