In Singapore, 1 in 7 people have suffered from a mental disorder in their lifetime. This is an increase compared to the 1 in 8 ratio recorded by a landmark study six years earlier.
Most of these mental illnesses occurred by their 20s, but patients may have discovered them even earlier because there is often a delay in seeking treatment due to the stigma attached to mental illnesses.
Dr Velloo is a practising psychiatrist while Pastor Toh is Lead Pastor at YCKC and has experience journeying with people who face mental health issues.
WHAT CAUSES MENTAL ILLNESS?
Mental illnesses like depression stem from chemical imbalances in the brain. But beyond the medical side of things, we can also understand illness from a spiritual point of view, shared Pastor Toh.
1. Fallen self
“Romans 8:22-23 tells us that we are waiting for the redemption of our bodies,” Pastor Toh said. “That means our bodies suffer decay and death on this earth.”
We see this in chronic illnesses like cancer and physical deformities. Since our bodies are corrupted, our minds are not exempt. In fact, some mental illnesses can be hereditary in nature and are passed down from generation to generation.
“Mental illness that is genetic starts with a trigger usually caused by stress. To prevent the gene from activating, we need to learn how to manage stress effectively,” Dr Velloo explained. “But once it starts, it can only be controlled. It’s very hard to ‘remove’.”
One’s temperament plays a part as well, Pastor Toh said. Since some of us have a natural tendency towards despondency and negative outlooks in life, it’s also possible that some of our temperaments are more inclined towards depression.
Finally, mental disorders can also be a result of harmful behaviour such as substance abuse.
2. Fallen world
“We live in a fallen world which means that none of us are protected from any negative experiences,” Pastor Toh pointed out. Some of us may have had difficult childhoods, others may have gone through traumatic life experiences.
Abuse, neglect, bullying and the loss of a loved one are events that can cause stress in our lives. These stressors may trigger the onset of mental illnesses in life, as Dr Velloo previously mentioned.
3. Fallen angel
We must also be aware of the spiritual forces in this world.
“The evil one knows that our fallen selves and the fallen world we live in can result in spiritual bondages like bitterness, unforgiveness, fear and hopelessness,” said Pastor Toh.
Oppression might come in the form of self-condemnation and guilt where we can’t forgive ourselves or think that we’re not worthy to be forgiven.
These are ungodly beliefs that may be the result of our upbringing or our circumstances. They can trap us in a cycle of negativity that affects our mental health.
WHAT CAN A CHRISTIAN SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION DO?
1. Know yourself
First of all, it’s important to know ourselves. Do we know what are our root issues?
Pastor Toh suggested inner healing for anyone who has experienced traumatic life experiences and has been struggling with bitterness and unforgiveness.
It takes a lifelong journey to deal with the pain, but it must begin.
“Inner healing is not a one-time event or a workshop that you attend and you’ll be fine. It takes a lifelong journey to deal with the pain, but it must begin,” he explained. “It must begin by acknowledging and allowing God to heal those aspects of your life.”
Other than spiritual remedies, natural remedies like keeping to a healthy diet and exercise regime help our minds to stay fresh and sharp.
Pastor Toh also pointed out that all of us should develop a recovery standard operating procedure.
Sharing how his friend with chronic depression would send him a text every time he feels that he’s sinking back into depression, he explained: “He will text to ask if I’m free and I’d know.
“And we’d meet for kopi and he would ask me the same question: ‘Does God love me?’ And I’d say yes. And it’s okay, because I know he needs that reaffirmation.”
2. Talk to yourself
Medical doctor and former minister of Westminster Chapel in London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once said this about spiritual depression: Don’t let ourselves talk to us – but let us talk to ourselves.
We have a despondency self and a faith self – our spirit man who knows the truth. We have to practise who to listen to.
Before the storm arrives, you should drop truth anchors to make sure that you’re steady and stable when the crisis comes.
According to Pastor Toh, what we can do is to develop truth anchors using God’s Word. Imagine you’re a ship in the sea. Before the storm arrives, you should drop truth anchors to make sure that you’re steady and stable when the crisis comes.
He also practises journaling his thanksgiving. And when he is very down or angry, he’ll read the journals and remember that God is good.
“I also ruminate on the promises of God so that I know them so well that they become a part of me,” Pastor Toh added.
Truth anchors can also come in the form of a church community. Look out for people of truth – external realities – because every time you feel depressed, your inner reality becomes frail and weak.
“Even if you know God’s Word, you might not be able to believe in it anymore,” Pastor Toh shared. “You’ve got to look for godly people whom you trust to speak truth to you. You may not trust yourself, but because these are people of truth who remind you of your external reality, you can choose to trust in them.”
3. Remind yourself
“There were two times in my life where I felt a sense of impending doom,” Pastor Toh shared. “I don’t know what sort of attack it was, but every single part of my shirt felt so heavy that I had to take it all off.”
Even then, his skin felt so painful that he wanted to tear it all off. That was when he realised something was wrong.
“I was in some sort of a panic mode, trapped in some sort of abyss that no one else could save me from,” said Pastor Toh.
The only thing he could do was to keep praying. Eventually, he fell asleep because he was too worn out. The next time this happened, he learned to reach out for external reality.
“I felt like I was sinking, so I held on to the wall and reminded myself that I was still here and that I was not sinking,” he recounted. “I remember telling myself, ‘Hang on, it has happened before. You have come before the Lord about this. Just pray, it’ll go.'”
Soon, he fell asleep and he was fine again the next day.
4. Watch yourself
Dr Velloo also shared from his experiences of ministering to people with mental health issues.
Addressing the importance of seeking treatment, he shared that while there is a general notion that depression can be cured with just community support, positive materials or even by sheer will, clinical depression is actually very difficult to overcome on our own.
“The best person to ask is the doctor because they are able to diagnose if it’s clinical depression or something else,” he said. “And if it’s clinical depression, you have to seek treatment.
“The earlier you seek treatment, the better the result.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that recovery is instantaneous. “Recovering from depression takes time,” Dr Velloo reminded the audience. “Just like how it takes weeks and months for you to be depressed, it takes weeks and months for you to recover.”
Don’t make any major decisions when you’re depressed.
Understanding that mental illness is not something we’ll immediately recover from after taking some medicine helps us to manage our expectations of the recovery process.
Dr Velloo advised taking as much time off from work or whatever we’re doing as possible because it can be difficult to juggle between work and treatment.
He offered another tip: Don’t make any major decisions when you’re depressed.
“I’ve got patients who sold 20, 30 years of business because he felt like he couldn’t handle some minor issues. I have to tell them that it’s the depression that’s talking, not them.”
Instead, he suggested putting such major decisions on hold for about three months and revisit them again. “Most of the time, my patients thank me for putting a stop to their impulsive decisions,” he said.
5. Surround yourself
While community support is not the sole solution, it is an important part of the recovery process.
“Patients need community support because when medication takes weeks to show results, they might feel discouraged and stop treatment altogether,” Dr Velloo said.
This is why he is always glad when he sees patients’ family members or friends accompanying them to see him. Because in the process of recovery, what patients need is love and support.
“So inform your loved ones and don’t suffer alone,” Dr Velloo encouraged. “The ministry of presence makes a whole lot of difference.”
In closing, Dr Velloo shared openly that it isn’t necessarily the body that needs treatment. Sometimes it’s our spirit that is in need of healing.
He said: “Sometimes, no matter what I do, the patient doesn’t get better. But once they get in touch with the church community, the scriptures, God Himself – that’s when I see improvement.
“Sometimes the missing link is not medication or therapy. It may just be God’s presence,” he concluded.
If you’d like to know more about the hope you can have in Jesus, watch our 3-minute animation.
If you’d like to speak to someone, help is available at the following centres:
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) 24-hour Hotline: 1800 221 4444 or [email protected].
Institute of Mental Health’s 24-hour Hotline: 6389 2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800 353 5800
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019