Focus Area: Health and Wellbeing
By Rev. Lindsay Geist
Hi how are you?
Have had this conversation lately?
When was the last time you asked someone, “How are you?” and were willing to stop and hear the answer or pause and answer truthfully yourself?
We have started using “How are you?” as a filler phrase instead of actually checking in with ourselves or one another.
It’s interesting that during the pandemic, we learned to start greeting each other in new ways – with fist bumps and air hugs. What would be it be like for us to find new ways to connect with one another emotionally?
By using “How are you?” as a filler phrase, we often stop checking in with ourselves and others with how we are REALLY doing. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to “tend” to one another and the communities around us. Or maybe we didn’t realize how big of a need it was until the experiences of disconnection, trauma, mental health, and lack of accessibility to some healthcare resources hit closer to home over the past two years.
We’re pretty good at bringing casseroles for funerals or initiating a meal train after a baby is born. But all that stuff in between? We can sometimes be at a loss for what to do. Or even aware that a problem exists.
Let me share some statistics:
- Did you know that 1 out of 5 people experiences a mental illness each year? That means at least 20% of us are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, eating disorders or substance use disorders.
- And those experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression increased during the last two years – the most recent statistics say it jumped to 2 in 5 people. That means FORTY percent of us.
- Less than half of people with a mental illness get treatment each year
- More than 1/3 of Americans live in a mental health professional shortage area
- Communities of color are disproportionately undertreated.
- Clergy depression rates are at an all time high with 14% of clergy reporting suffering from depression, according to Wespath’s latest survey.
What do all of these statistics tell us? First, both laity and clergy are experiencing mental health symptoms. Neither is exempt. It also tells us that we are not alone if we’re feeling out of sorts, especially if we are experiencing new mental health symptoms we’ve never felt before.
What makes this topic of health and wellbeing even more complicated, is that it can be challenging to address our mental health needs when so much else feels like it’s on shaky ground.
Are you familiar with the popular diagram of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Abraham Maslow was a famous psychologist who identified a theory of human motivation that states humans are motivated to fulfill their needs in a hierarchical order.
- Our first level of needs are physiological needs – things like food, water, shelter, clothing.
- The next level is security and safety needs – financial security, health and wellness, access to health insurance and healthcare.
- The next level addresses social needs such a friendships, relationships, and the ability to engage in social groups and organizations, like churches.
According to this hierarchy, if we aren’t addressing housing stability, food stability, and relational health (such as foster care, trauma, and communal support), then we might have challenges to begin addressing mental health care, let alone helping someone to grow in discipleship in a congregation. So part of addressing health and wellbeing will be addressing the WHOLE health of an individual – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
As the church, we seem to be more comfortable talking about and meeting physiological needs (and even some social needs) than addressing our mental health needs.
We need to confront the stigma around mental health conversations and shift how we talk about this as a church because mental health has been named as one of the newest pandemics in this country. Perhaps a place to start is that instead of fixating on mental illness specifically (and whether you have enough symptoms to qualify you for a diagnosis or not), let’s focus on helping everyone move from languishing to flourishing.
You’ve probably heard those terms at some point during this past year. Psychologist Adam Grant wrote a great article about it that circled the internet for a while last year. And honestly, it’s the language that researchers of clergy wellbeing have used for a number of years. How do we move ourselves and our communities from languishing to flourishing.
Let’s define them:
- Languishing is… a sense of stagnation or emptiness
- Flourishing is… the peak of wellbeing – having a strong sense of meaning, mastery, and mattering to others.
Do we really know how to BE with one another – especially when someone is languishing or even experiencing a mental health crisis?
We as a church want to make it a safe space to ask for help. You don’t have to have all the answers. Ask someone to help you get connected to the answers. Partner with organizations in the community that specialize in health and wellbeing.
Check in on yourself. Check in on others. If you feel like you’re languishing or your mental health is struggling, create space in your life to care for yourself. And encourage others to take a break if you’re seeing them spinning.
These upcoming next few years, we are going to focus more on helping everyone get access to mental health support, increasing conversation around overall wellbeing, and helping communities heal from trauma to move towards flourishing. Because wellbeing is both individual and communal. We need healthy pastors to lead congregations. We need healthy congregations to nurture discipleship. We need healthy discipleship to lead to transformation of communities towards flourishing. And we need to recognize that serious disparity and stigma exists in access to these resources.
In the coming months, we invite you to engage in a few offerings.
- For clergy, there will be more information coming about how to engage renewal leave. Also, in addition to the fantastic ACE2 group opportunities already in place, we are partnering with an organization to provide a new short-term ACE2 offering that focuses on the connection between creation and Sabbath rest through gardening. We will also continue to remind clergy on how to engage in mental health counseling services through our healthcare plan.
- For the larger conference, both laity and clergy, there will be training around mental health and suicide awareness.
- If you want some initial resources, especially in learning more about clergy wellbeing, check out www.ngumc.org/wellbeing. You can get access to a pdf of all the key crisis hotline numbers, a feelings wheel, recommendations on how to start searching for a therapist, and some coping skills like a walking meditation guide. Also sign up for the monthly Wellbeing Wednesday newsletter at www.ngumc.org/subscribe.
Finally, I invite you in your next conversation, instead of saying “How are you?” be sure to ask, “How is your soul?” and REALLY listen to the answer.
Rev. Lindsay Geist is a Deacon in Full Connection in the North Georgia Conference as well as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She serves as the Director of Wellbeing in the Center for Clergy Excellence. Contact Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org.