This is nearly a perfect storm for mental illness. The University of Washington through exhaustive scientific, practical research has determined one in four adults has some form of mental illness. If we factor in our current pandemic, broken trust in popular media and politicians, unemployment, mandated stay home policies in our state, lack of needed personal touch, rampant TV-watching, internet obsessions, video-gaming addictions, increased drug and alcohol consumption, etc., we can reasonably presume we’re likely going to see even more mental illness — beyond the obvious increase we’ve already witnessed. Factor in the bombardment of conspiracy theories flooding into our minds, internet giants flagrantly regulating free speech, daily irrational attacks and defenses of politicians and experts, and recent threats of absurd and intrusive ideas of contact tracing, and it’s clear people’s mental health is at even greater risk.
The Pacific Northwest has its own unique issues built in, already, which lends itself to mental health struggles. Crosscut.com in 2016 published an article stating Washington state has more people with mental illness (on average) than any other state. In the same publication, it quotes from a national nonprofit organization, Mental Health America, saying Washington ranks 49th out of 50 states in meeting mental health needs. So we’re the worst in percentages of people with mental illness and almost the worst in caring for the mentally ill.
Shortly after that article was written a federal judge found our state to be in contempt in a ruling regarding timely services for the mentally ill. As far back as 2013, The Seattle Times was reporting long waiting lists for mental health help, filled to capacity mental health facilities, hospitals with as many as 20 mental health patients per day — many lined up in hallways due to lack of space — and huge percentages of the homeless and incarcerated populations with untreated mental illness.
Seasonal depression is a legitimate concern as well. The gray skies do get to a lot of people in the winter months. The spring and summer weather gives us hope, but as much as I don’t want to say it, it’s a bit of false hope. Sure, I’m a perpetual optimist, but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t give you the facts.
Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean we are getting enough Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient for brain health. The most natural way to provide Vitamin D for the body is to be in sunlight. Sunlight converts cholesterol from the skin to Vitamin D, naturally. However, even though it’s sunny in the Pacific Northwest, the distance of the Earth to the sun is not optimal for this to occur. This is why seasonal depression is a thing — even spilling over into our sunnier months.
The typical recommendation is supplementation of 400 to 800iu of Vitamin D for an adult who consumes 2000 calories per day — if one cannot get it in food or from the sun. An increasing number of mental health professionals are recommending 5000iu of Vitamin D3 per day. However, reputable organizations like the Mayo Clinic suggest not going above 4000iu per day without guidance from your personal physician (and they list very specific risks in taking more than that).
Understand that our propensity for the lack of natural Vitamin D in the Pacific Northwest, coupled with the lack of proper consumption in supplementation (according to many mental health professionals), compounds our mental health crisis. Yes, nationally, we are seeing what some are calling an epidemic in mental illness right now. To me it appears even worse in our region. It’s clearly impacting our community, right here in the Yelm and surrounding area.
We continue to learn more about the positive benefits of Vitamin D in brain health. Many mental health experts claim if there is any one vitamin to supplement for brain health, it’s Vitamin D3. Some studies suggest 42 percent of Americans have a Vitamin D deficiency. How much worse it must be in the Pacific Northwest! So, it behooves us to ensure we are getting enough Vitamin D for our own sanity.
Last week Northwestern University published a study with a possible link to COVID-19 mortality rates and Vitamin D deficiencies. In other words, they suspect Vitamin D deficiencies may be a contributing factor in at least some COVID-19 deaths. Still, more studies must be done to be conclusive. Even so, it seems this is one more reason to make sure our Vitamin D levels are good.
Let’s drop the Vitamin D3 supplementation talk, and move on.
Before we shift gears, let’s keep it in neutral for a moment. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, help is more readily available than you might think. If you or someone you know is feeling alone, isolated, depressed or even suicidal, you are not alone. If everything seems hopeless, if nothing but doom, gloom, and despair seems inevitable, it can get better — for real. Yes, our system is broken. Yes, it’s not right that so many are so broken down, emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, etc. It’s not fair that things get so far out of control that relationships are fractured, jobs are lost, families are dysfunctional, friendships are broken, securities disappear, and hope and peace diminish.
I shared a couple resources a few weeks ago with you. This time I would like to share a resource unique to people in our community. It’s an interactive online resource which is so simple to use, and it produces quick and functional results. All you have to do is input symptoms for you or a loved one, and it will link you to the most fitting helpful resources, which are readily available. You can then email or call to connect, directly, and get the help or support you need. It’s called System of Care Partnership, and the link is below. If help or support is needed, don’t put it off. Click on the resource. There’s no obligation to proceed beyond any steps.
Now, If you’re unaware this is a column typically found in the religious section of a local newspaper, headquartered in Yelm, Washington, now you know. If you do not want to read information that contains religious information from the perspective of a Christian pastor and counselor, you might not want to read further. The remainder of this article will be dedicated to more information, concerning mental health, from said perspective. It will be kept short, and there is a video link at the end that could prove helpful to even nonreligious people.
Jesus preached from the beginning of His ministry onward, “Repent… (Matthew 4:17).” The original Greek word for repent literally means “change your mind.” So Jesus wants us to change our minds — to think right. His apostles continued the same teaching. Peter, as he addressed the crowd on the Day of Pentecost after they begged to know what to do told them first, “Repent… (Acts 2:38).” All the way through the last book of the New Testament, the preaching of repentance (getting your thinking correct) continued (Revelation 3:19).
The most common form of mental health therapy today is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It doesn’t matter if it’s depression, schizophrenia or even mental illness things connected to drug or alcohol addictions, this is the most common therapy. If a judge orders therapy, it will likely include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the idea that what you think affects how you feel, which in turn impacts how you behave. It takes into account that all of these affect each other (thinking, feeling, behaving), as well. In said therapy, the goal is to get the person’s thinking right. Once that is done, the feelings improve, and then so does the behavior(s). So, the primary thing is to get the thinking right.
We have advanced with modern sciences and learned the best solution in mental health therapy includes a main idea: get our thinking right. As advanced as we have become, we’ve circled back to a nearly 2000 year old idea which is spelled out, emphatically, in the Bible by Jesus and those who followed Him. The doctrine of repentance is all about getting people to think right. So is the idea of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the best therapy in modern psychology/counseling.
If you would like to start down the path of improving your mental health while aligning yourself with the Bible, it’s essentially the same thing. Jesus gives us some good starting material in the beginning of His ministry in what is called The Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 6 records Jesus saying several things to get our thinking right so that we can set ourselves up for the greatest chance of having better mental health. He says things like “don’t worry about stuff” because God will take care of His people. He says by dwelling on things God can take care of only wastes time, and gets us off focus. He says each day has enough trouble of its own without us worrying about it. He emphasizes if we concentrate on the Kingdom (that is Christianity — living out our faith so others can come to share our peace and hope – see James 2, Philippians 2, etc.), God will take care of our needs.
Boom! There it is. Get our thinking right, and God will take care of the very things we were worrying about. There’s something therapeutic about not focusing on or coddling our problems, and there’s something practical about handing things off that we can’t handle on our own to a God who can handle anything. Keep in mind, sometimes handing things off to God includes handing things off to people God has put in our paths – like a counselor, family member, spouse, friend, or someone else.
I’d like to wrap this up with a short, 2-minute video you can see below (link). It illustrates this same idea (above) as taught in Colossians 3:2, which says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” A very wise mentor and friend of mine had this illustration come to mind in the middle of a prayer while he was going through a lot of stress. He called the illustration See Level. The idea is if you feel like you’re drowning in life’s struggles – like you’re finding it hard to breathe as you are smothered by life’s circumstances, don’t focus on the surface (circumstances). Instead, look up (to Jesus), and you’ll survive the hard times. Dwelling on your problem(s) only makes it worse.
Pastor Jeff Adams is a professional Christian counselor who travels the world teaching but serves our community. His column appears weekly. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.