How to Deal with Discouragement

discouragementOne of the lines in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” presents a great truth.

Clarence, the second class angel who’s trying to earn his wings, watches a video about his divine appointment. Then Clarence asks God, “What is wrong with George Bailey. Is he sick?”

“Worse,” God says. “He’s discouraged.”

Anyone who has experienced discouragement knows it is a feeling of being sick at heart, a heaviness and a dread, almost a hopeless feeling.

We might define discouragement as a black cloud that hovers over us, stealing our joy and distracting us from the abundant life. We feel melancholy and can easily slip into a gloomy pessimism that eliminates hope.

Sometimes, as in George Bailey’s case, discouragement settles in because of the circumstances of life. George was facing the possibility of jail time and scandal because his uncle lost the company’s money. Basically, George was discouraged because he thought he was worth more dead than alive. He listened to the lies of Mr. Potter, and then considered taking his own life.

Discouragement escalated to despair.

Some of our discouraging circumstances might revolve around a financial setback, a health issue, a child who denies her faith, the loss of a job – or any number of struggles.

Sometimes discouragement is a result of how others treat us. Constant verbal abuse that tears at our self-esteem or someone who ignores us when we so desperately need to be cherished.

Any type of devaluing statement can cause discouragement. This is one reason why our words are so important.

Sometimes discouragement creates a rut of gloominess, especially when we’ve experienced a series of losses. We feel we’ve struggled so long, we can’t move forward and we don’t know how to climb out of that dark pit.

So what do we do when discouragement settles in? Can we pray for an angel, a Clarence, to come alongside us?

Yes, we can. We can ask God to send us encouragement through the presence of angels or through the kindness of other Christians. God knows the exact gift we need or the exact words we need to hear.

We can ask Jesus to pray for us and help lift us out of our melancholy. His role at the right hand of God is to intercede, to remind God of what we need and ask for divine intervention. So we can cry out, “Jesus, pray for me. Send help!

Sometimes the way out of discouragement comes through powerful music. Just listening to a song or even dancing to the music can help us feel better.

When we are discouraged, we can talk to counselors and coaches at GateWay of Hope who will help us find the root of the problem and formulate a plan to move forward.

And we can remind ourselves that discouragement doesn’t have to win.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 TMB).

What are some practical steps for dealing with discouragement?

  • One day at a time, present the discouragement to God.
  • Journal about your thoughts.
  • Check with us at GateWay for ways we can help you.
  • Stay in hope – don’t lose heart.
  • And keep reminding yourself … Discouragement does NOT have to win.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

 

How Elijah Teaches About Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness MonthMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. In last week’s post, we looked at different kinds of mental illnesses, the myths about these illnesses and some of the causes.

Today we will look at some lessons from the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It’s not what he has to say as much as what we can learn by observing his life.

Let’s start with a brief overview of I Kings 17-19. God works some miracles. No rain falls until Elijah says so. Ravens bring Elijah some food. Oil and flour multiply for a starving widow and her son. Later, Elijah raises the widow’s son from death.

Next, Elijah alone challenges 450 priests of Baal. He watches them prepare and offer their sacrifices to Baal, with no results. Then Elijah prepares and offers his sacrifice to God. He uses 12 stones, builds an altar, puts the wood on it, cuts up the bull and sacrifices it.

God accepts Elijah’s sacrifice, sends fire and consumes the altar. The people repent, capture the prophets of Baal, and Elijah kills all the evil prophets. The result is a big revival.

After all this occurs, Elijah tells King Ahab to hurry home and have a nice supper because it’s going to rain. But Elijah then runs ahead of Ahab 16 miles and arrives at Jezreel before the king and his chariot.

Ahab tells his wife, wicked Queen Jezebel, “Elijah has killed the priests of Baal.” Jezebel is so angry, she declares she’s going to kill Elijah. So he runs scared—in fact he runs 20 miles; then walks another 20 miles until he reaches the wilderness.

Then Elijah begs God to kill him. What’s with that? Is this man crazy? Suicidal? Depressed? Did he forget about the miracles God had just performed?

Elijah was a mighty man of God. Had he suddenly lost his faith?

No, he was not crazy and he had not lost his faith. He might have been depressed, certainly discouraged. Let’s look at what might be going on in his life and see if we can learn some tips about mental health.

First, Elijah is exhausted. Let’s look again at all the physical things he did. He completed a major building project by making the altar. Then he ran and walked several miles. He was tired, sleepy and hungry.

After Elijah asked God to kill him, he slept. Twice an angel woke him up and gave him food to eat.  Then, after he was rested and full, he had the strength to go on.

Elijah simply needed to rest, sleep and eat good food. This was not a spiritual issue. It was physical.

In his Bible study, “To Walk and Not Grow Weary,” Fran Sciacca concurs, “Often what we consider a hopeless emotional or spiritual battle is actually due to our own neglect of basic physical needs, such as proper rest, food, and exercise.” 

Lesson #1 – We need to take care of ourselves physically. When we are tired, we need to get enough rest and sleep. And we need to eat the right foods to give us energy. 

Second, Elijah believed a lie. He said “I alone am left.” Yet the story mentions 100 other prophets and 7000 God-worshipers. Though Elijah was a man of God, he believed the lie that he was alone. He surely felt lonely and frightened to think he was the only God-follower in the entire nation.

Elijah needed to know and dwell on the truth.

Dr. Chris Thurman, in “The Lies We Tell Ourselves” states, “Most of our emotional struggles, relationship difficulties, and spiritual setbacks are caused by the lies we tell ourselves.” 

Lesson #2 – We need to separate the truth from the lies and focus our thinking on truth. 

Third, Elijah was isolated. Although other God-followers were in the story, for the most part, Elijah was isolated and so, he felt alone. Occasionally, his servant was with him, but he didn’t have fellowship with other God-followers. Though Elijah had experienced many victories, he was not only isolated, he was probably lonely.

Elijah needed companionship 

Larry Crab in “Connecting” expresses a similar belief, “The problem is disconnected souls. What we need is connection…community.” 

Lesson #3 – We need to be around other people. We are not created to live in isolation. 

From Elijah’s story, we can conclude that Elijah’s depression (his desire to die) was not primarily a spiritual issue. Rather, his physical exhaustion, his cognitive beliefs, and his social isolation influenced his emotions and his spirit. Because he was tired, misinformed and alone, he was mentally and spiritually unhealthy.

So what can we learn from Elijah about having good mental health?

The next time you’re feeling really stressed, anxious or discouraged, ask yourself if you’re exhausted, believing a lie, or isolated.

If so, find some extra time to rest, eat some healthy food, think about the truth, and connect with a friend. If those activities don’t help, then call your doctor, your pastor or a counselor.

And don’t forget GateWay of Hope is here to help. Call us at 913.393.GATE (4283).

©2016 Deborah Simon, Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope

How to Be Aware of Mental Health

For those of you who are regular followers of the GateWay of Hope blog, you’ll remember that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We want to keep you informed about important issues, so from time to time, we will address various “awareness months.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you were sitting across from me, I would ask you what you think of when you hear the word “mental health” or “mental illness.” You might give an answer similar to one of the following:Counseling image

  • Mental illness just means you’re depressed.
  • Mental illness has to do with “crazy people.”
  • Mental illness would NEVER affect me, my family or the people in my church.
  • People who have a mental illness are simply weak. If they were stronger or had more faith they could get over it by themselves.
  • There’s no real help or hope for people who are mentally ill.

These are just a few of the myths about mental illness, so I wanted to share a few thoughts and information with you.

There are hundreds of types of mental illnesses. Today counselors and psychologists use the “Mental Health bible” known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5 (www.dsm5.org) for diagnosing mental illness. The positive aspect of being diagnosed is when we say “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” it has a real meaning and is not just a word to throw around.

A few of the categories of mental illnesses listed in the DSM-5 include:

  • Depression
  • Bi-polar, Schizophrenia and Anxiety Disorders
  • Trauma, Eating, Sleeping and Sexual Dysfunctions Disorders
  • Impulse-Control, Substance Addiction, Neurocognitive and Personality Disorders
  • And the list goes on

These are just the main categories. Under each of these are sub-categories. So mental illness isn’t just one thing such as cancer or orthopedic issues.

I’m 100% certain you know someone with a diagnosable mental illness. In fact, many of you reading this post will fall into a category based on the information described above. It does NOT mean you, your family member or your church friends are crazy.

Many mental illnesses actually have their basis in our biology, genetics and brains. Others come from how we were raised or trauma we may have endured as children or adults. Still others come from long-term choices we have made. But often, though not always, it is a combination of these three.

Having a mental illness does not mean you are weak. Neither does it mean you are unspiritual and don’t have enough faith.

Those kinds of beliefs only hurt people, akin to mocking the person who has been in a terrible car accident, saying she is stupid or weak because she can’t run the New York marathon.

Today there are many varieties of help for people with mental illnesses: individual counseling, support groups, psycho-education, medication, self-help books and of course – prayer.

Whether people choose a public mental health facility or a private counselor, they can get help. Whether they choose to confide in their pastor or church leader or go to their doctor, they can get help.  Whether they join a support group or take a psychiatric medication or attend a psycho-educational seminar, they can get help.

Many people think medication is not a good way to address a mental illness because medications have been abused or people think mental health drugs are unspiritual. Still others prefer going the natural realm of using vitamins and supplements. That’s also okay, if they work.

But please don’t condemn people who are on psychiatric medications or tell them not to take their drugs. No one would tell a diabetic to not take insulin and just pray.

The same thing is true about medications for depression, anxiety and a whole host of other conditions. Yes, medications can be over-used or used wrongly, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Please remember the best help for anyone with a mental illness is usually all of the above. Talk-therapy and medication-therapy working hand-in-hand often are a winning duo. The church and the counselor partnering together can offer more than either of them can offer separately.  When you add the doctor, the collaboration is even stronger.

The person with a diagnosable mental illness of any kind needs prayer and encouragement. The last thing she needs is to be told to just “get over it” by having more faith.

That suggestion causes unbelievable harm and shame. Christ-followers would never want to do that to fellow believers or family members.

To learn more about mental health and mental illness, we recommend two websites: www.nimh.nih.gov and www.nami.org. Become informed and educate yourself.

Another organization in Olathe with a similar name as GateWay of Hope is Pathway to Hope. Pathway advocates for the mentally ill and offers support groups for clients and their families. You can learn more at www.pathwaytohope.org

GateWay of Hope can help the women in your life who struggle with a mental health issue. Please call us at 913.393.GATE(4283).

We are here to help and encourage you.

©2016 – Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope