The Club for Brainy People
The month of May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” which makes me simultaneously grateful and uneasy. I’m grateful our culture is more understanding and accepting of those who struggle with mental illness. My unease comes from the idea that we can believe mental health is only for a specific, needy group; like Alcoholics Anonymous or The National Accordion Players Association. Some people have “mental health issues” and the rest of us can sit on the side lines, assured our only responsibility is the “awareness” part. We can congratulate ourselves on our open-mindedness toward therapy and anti-depressants – and be secretly relieved that we personally don't need them.
But to decide mental health is for a select few is equivalent to believing only some people need to brush their teeth. Every single human being needs mental health; whether or not they will ever need a psychiatrist. If you’ve got a brain, then you need to take care of it. You are part of the “mental health” club. Welcome. Grab a cup of coffee and a name badge.
Like every part of your body, the brain requires care and upkeep. Given the right circumstances (like a stressful job or being cooped up in your home for six weeks) and the wrong diet (like 24-hour news), any brain can behave in decidedly unhealthy ways. Sometimes it will come up with thoughts that feel true even they aren’t. If you assume your brain is always thinking healthy, correct thoughts, you’re not paying attention to your mental health.
You can't believe everything your brain thinks. It’s going to come up with all kinds of cockamamie stuff. You constantly need to assess the validity of what your brain is telling you.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “….whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Part of mental health means paying attention to the thoughts you think. If you are struggling with ongoing thoughts of sadness or despair, then please, please, see a doctor. You are not meant to live with unrelenting anxiety or pain. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. You are not a failure. You don’t lack faith. You haven’t moved from the “awareness” club to the “mental health” club. All of us card-carrying brain owners are here with you. You just need what any of us do from time to time - a good brush and floss. Yes, there is a possibility that there are more serious issues below the gumline that will require special measures. But most likely, you need a good check-up.
Mental health is for everyone. It begins with understanding that we are God’s creation, beloved and broken, fractured and forgiven. It develops when we have the humility and wisdom to know that our thoughts – no matter how believable they seem – are not necessarily true. And we are most mentally fit when we remember we have the potential to get sick. We are all part of the same club - living messy, magnificent lives in need of a Savior. I’m so grateful we’re in this together.
PS - I invite you to sit with these thoughts for a moment. Please don't rush past them too quickly. For more inspiration, here's one of my favorite songs from Eric Church that reminds me where to go when my brain gets going in the wrong direction.