I’m a man?

Yes, and here it is!

Stiff upper lip.

I’m a man.

Strong.

I’m a man.

Burn stuff and take hipster photos of mountains.

I’m a man.

Depressed.

I’m a man?

Question every decision I make.

I’m a man?

Pretty sure I’m no good.

I’m a man?

You know something is wrong when you question your own gender as a result of being depressed. Now, I know some of you will probably read this and say, ‘How ridiculous! Of course we can talk about mental health problems as men.’ Well, I respectfully disagree. I don’t disagree with the fact that we should, I disagree that, on the whole, we can’t. It isn’t as if men struggling with their mental health are actively silenced, but there’s something about the culture of church which I find problematic.

(I shall add a small disclaimer here, I’m not making claims of universality, so please don’t think I’m generalising. I’m merely speaking from my own experience.)

Testimony should be about healing and wholeness. Or at least that’s what seems to be the case. The vast majority of what we hear from our leaders and those chosen to share testimony is ‘I was once here, now, by the grace of God, I’m here.’ Great, I’m genuinely pleased for you. However here’s the problem… I can’t see any healing. At least not today. And this is where I live. I live in a constant state of up and down, where normality is questioning every decision I make (mainly because I think they’re all rubbish) and a miracle is a day when I’m super-motivated and go to bed feeling good about it all.

It’s not like I’ve not tried the healing stuff. It just seems to be that this is my lot in life.

So what do we do?

We talk.

I know it’s uncomfortable for you to hear that, but it’s often uncomfortable for me to stand and sing wonderful songs about how great God makes life when, well, he doesn’t seem to for me most of the time!

I don’t want to be told that I need to have a positive message in order for me to share. Jesus valued authenticity, and he still does. Whether it’s joyful or lamenting. Try it. Invite people to share pain, and not just after they feel better, because for many of us, we probably won’t. You’ll find that when you do, things get messy. More people will come forward, but through opening the conversation, allowing people to share their pain alongside others’ joy, we will begin to see a more united journey, united church and men who recognise vulnerable authenticity as being key to their discipleship.

A note for leaders: if you want to see this in your church you need to live it yourself. Be vulnerable before your church. Not so that they pity you, but so they know you’re the same as them. If you’re a leader struggling with depression, talk about it first with your peers, then with your congregation. The first time I did it terrified me, but the consequence was one of seeing others experience the freedom of being able to talk about it. If you don’t struggle with mental health, talk to someone who does (I know you know someone!). Get rid of the agenda to ‘fix them’ (which, let’s face it, we just call discipleship). Hear where they are. Thank them for their honestly. Ask them to share. They might not, but I know that for me the invite adds value to who I am. It adds value to my experience, and that’s something that this conversation desperately needs more of.

Ben Martin,
Pioneer at St Alkmunds, Derby

Image Credit: Tom Sodoge

If you are in a crisis or if you’re worried about someone you know – help is available. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.

  • J

    This is great to read, especially as I’m quite new to this mental health struggle thing. As a family we are all struggling as we have 3 children with various needs (one with Autism) and as much as a mate telling me he hates me, when your 8 year old does it hurts, then 5 minutes later I’m the best Dad in the world because I gave him a biscuit (or otherwise mundane task). I’ve been taking the happy pills for a while and I once had it explained that they change your life from being like walking through waist high treacle, to travelling through waste high treacle with a rubber ring (a bit easier – but not gone away).
    I once read a Christian book that talked about how men can cope with their struggles, it rather unhelpfully stated, that anxiety and depression shouldn’t happen as it means you aren’t trusting in God by giving all your troubles to Him, well that is part of the problem of being a man, giving anything away is much harder than “trying” to deal with it yourself.
    Thanks for the great post Ben.

  • Keith

    Thanks Ben. I would add that part of discipleship is coming alongside people in their time of need (hurting/mental illness) and is probably when we become a more avid follower of Jesus.
    Ask your dad about me.