According to the World Health Organization, 450 million people worldwide suffer from some mental health condition. In the United States, one in five Americans will experience mental illness in a year, with anxiety disorders the most common among them. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health and illness have become a hot topic of discussion. These last few months have brought on so much change, and the need to adjust in times of uncertainty. Many have experienced feelings of loss and grief, and for those who are already susceptible to mental health issues, this crisis has exacerbated feelings of depression and anxiety.
As an inspirational speaker, minister and mental health and wellness advocate, my life’s purpose has always been to aid in the alleviation of the stigma associated with mental illness, and provide hope for others who have been held captive by shame. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, a mental illness is defined “as a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling, behavior or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others.” In this month of May, designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, I must say that it brings me joy to see the myriad of articles and posts shining a light on what has long been considered a taboo subject. It brings me joy know that people no longer have to suffer in silence, but there are now resources and community support available. How apropos for such a time as this! COVID-19 has affected all of our lives and as a survivor of this virus, in recovery after more than fifty days since the onset of symptoms, I am intimately acquainted with the physiological and emotional affects and effects of this pandemic. Now more than ever, people are recognizing how the health of our minds affects our physical, social, and spiritual health.
Over the years, as I sought resources from within and outside of the church to aid me on my journey towards emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing, I adopted the motto, “Go Heal Thyself.” This motto was borne out of a divine awareness. Over the years I have come to realize that God has given me everything I needed to be mentally whole. God has given me resources from the earth and through people to live the abundant life that Jesus came for me to have (John 10:10). God has provided me with the tools to heal the broken pieces of my life that may have been shattered due to trauma, grief, and loss. Adapting and embracing this motto has empowered me to take charge of how I respond to personal experiences instead of simply reacting to my surroundings. I now realize that I am responsible for how I show up in the world.
Your mental health can be impacted by many factors, especially adverse life events, but it is up to you to go heal thyself. God is no respecter of persons, and so the same steps God has given me are the same steps you may be able to take on your own personal journey towards mental wholeness. Here are three major steps:
1. ACCEPT THAT IT'S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY
I had to acknowledge that I was not okay. Raised in the church, I held on to the belief that if I prayed hard enough, I would not feel depressed. However, that erroneous belief negatively impacted my spiritual health and I suffered in silence for many years. Eventually the silence became too much to bear, and I decided that I needed to go to therapy. Today, I encourage you to have the courage to acknowledge when you are not okay. It is okay to not be okay, and recognizing this will be your first step on the road to a healthy mind.
Depression and anxiety did not own me, and I would no longer allow them to control my life.
2. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR MEDITATIONS
With the use of cognitive behavioral therapy through licensed mental health professionals, I have learned how to think about what I am thinking about. Over the years I realized that where my thoughts went, so did my feelings and ultimately how I showed up in the world. One of my favorite scriptures of the Bible is from Philippians 4:8 which reads, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Maybe you are feeling lost. Maybe you are feeling like you’re stuck in the house, or maybe adjusting to work from home has made you anxious. Regardless of your mental unrest, I challenge you to think about your perspective. Are you really stuck in the house, or are you safe in the house? Are you grateful and thankful to God for having a job to work from home, especially when so many have been furloughed or laid off during this time? Maybe, like me, you have lost loved ones to this pandemic and are grieving. You may have mixed emotions — feelings of helplessness, sadness and anger because you could not say your final goodbye, and you cannot give them a final send-off in a traditional way. I understand. But again, whatever the cause of the mental unrest, I encourage you to adjust your focus – adjust your meditation. When we are mindful of our meditation it helps us avoid that rabbit hole of hopelessness and despair. I had to be mindful of detrimental thoughts that led feelings depression or anxiety. I had to be mindful of thoughts that resulted in me feeling sad, lonely, scared, hopeless and worthless. I had to acknowledge that my meditations were not helpful to me, and that I needed to get help in the retraining and renewing of my mind. I needed help to think good, pure, and lovely thoughts about myself and about my circumstances. What thoughts are fueling your emotional unrest?
In addition to being mindful of my thoughts, I had to be mindful of my association with the effects of an unhealthy mind. This mindfulness allowed me to see how much I held on to depression and anxiety as if they were a part of my personality. I used to say, “my depression” and “my anxiety”, but today I say, “I am feeling depressed”, or “I am feeling anxious.” I had to make a conscious effort to disassociate from depression and anxiety. Now, hear me out. This disassociation was not rooted in shame of mental illness. It was rooted in the revelation that I was not what I had been through, or what I experienced. Depression and anxiety did not own me, and I would no longer allow them to control my life. Once I stopped saying, “I’m depressed”, or “My depression” I saw a significant change in how I viewed myself and how I interacted with others. Being mindful of our meditations allows us to be cognizant of our thoughts and associations, which then empowers us to make the necessary changes that lead to progress in our mental health.
If your system is not supportive, but instead adds to your mental unrest, make the decision to restructure and reorganize it.
3. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
On your journey towards mental wholeness be intentional about who you engage with throughout your life. The more I began to see myself through the lens of God and not my circumstances or struggles, the more I attracted loving and emotionally stable friends. Friendships are an important part of your support system. I knew I needed a solid circle of friends and confidants who I could just have fun with, but who would also be there with me on this journey. When you are surrounded by loving, grounded people, you will soon realize that you too are lovable and valuable — a great self-esteem booster.
When I first experienced symptoms of COVID-19, I quarantined myself and focused on coming out alive. Although I was able to fight off the contagion with every fiber of my being, I am confident that it was the prayers of my church family and dear friends, and the continuous check-ins that helped me to maintain emotional stability. So, check your support system. Be intentional about who you spend your time and energy with. If your system is not supportive, but instead adds to your mental unrest, make the decision to restructure and reorganize it.
Getting help for your mental health is even easier amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many, if not all, licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are providing telemedicine and teletherapy. If you are experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, or a combination of all three; or perhaps you can’t articulate how you are feeling, but you know something is wrong, I encourage you to take advantage of this time and connect with a therapist. These professionals can provide you with an intake and start treating you via telephone and/or video chat. I personally find comfort in the ability to continue my sessions with my therapist via video chat. My goal is to live unapologetically authentic and to utilize the blessings of the earth, both the sacred and the secular, for overall wellness and wholeness.
So, go heal thyself — partner with God for optimal mental health. We must be active participants in the healing process. In honoring God with our bodies, we must remember that our mental health is as important as our physical health. Today, I encourage you to go heal thyself — make the decision to seek the necessary help and to do the required work, so that we can show up in life healed, healthy and whole.
Eshe Killian is a Vine Author, an inspirational speaker and licensed minister who is passionate about ministering to broken and wounded women.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)