Mental illness is always real but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges we all face in adjusting to the world around us. Restrictions intended to protect our physical health are challenging our mental health. We sometimes feel confined in a prison of our own minds resulting in anxiety, hopelessness, anger and depression.
In a meeting with colleagues we talked about the new rhythms of life we have had to adjust to—limited travel, flat-screen meetings fatigue, no distinct breaks in the day, little face-to-face contact—recognising the challenges.
I‘ve talked to a few people who have quarantined for 14 days—one of them for 28. Words such as complete isolation, panic, loneliness and boredom were used to describe the experience. It would’ve been desperately depressing without the hope of seeing family and friends after that.
Bible characters such as Elijah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist showed depressive thinking and behaviour. At work and in our church we probably know people who are depressed, but are we there to listen, support and encourage? Thankfully most countries have phone helplines and online resources to help those of us who get depressed (Lifeline, Beyond Blue, etc).
In the eighth century BC, the prophet Isaiah encountered depression. The people were self-absorbed in the rituals of religion and making an income at the expense of others under the Assyrian army’s continual threat.
Isaiah’s antidote to their darkness (the Hebrew word aphelah suggests mental gloom or despair) is, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness” (Isaiah 58:10 NLT). This is active disciple-making even in darkness.