A Hub of Hope: Guest Post from Rachel Ruddy
Social connectedness seems to be key in the fight against suicide and managing suicidal thoughts. Many national and local strategies have tried to target men by raising awareness through sports personalities talking about their own mental health difficulties and sports clubs creating space for people to talk and be directed to support. Campaigns like “Time to Talk Day” help promote deeper relationships in workplaces by people being honest about their mental health problems and daily struggles. A recent initiative by one of the suicide prevention charities has launched a website and app called the “Hub of Hope” in an attempt to help people find local services, telephone and online support to help them find it easier to address their mental health needs. (I don’t know how many churches are listed!)
Although many suicides can occur out of the blue with no warning or contact with health services depression is one of the main causes of suicidal thoughts. Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, draws strongly on his own experience with depression and independent evidence to show that social connections can make a big difference to outcome. (Interestingly and unsurprisingly, his other book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, also draws attention to the vital role of social support in fighting the battle with addiction).
The Samaritans promote creating connections as a means of suicide prevention and helping people in crisis. They share true stories of people not going ahead with suicide because someone approached them and talked to them, often about ordinary things, at the time they were contemplating it. People want something to hang on to some sign that they matter, that they are part of humanity, that someone else “sees” them.
As Christians we are not surprised that social connectedness is important in giving people hope. How many times are we told in Bible to “love one another”. This brotherly love is key to us functioning in the fullness of life as God intended it. We are not born as individuals but as members of families, communities, tribes, nations. And as Christians we are rooted into God as part of his family; sons and daughters. As the church we are part of a body of believers that needs to function together and care for each other. These are just some of the “one anothering” verses:
“...Be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” Romans 12:10
“...Stop passing judgment on one another.” Romans 14:13
“Live in harmony with one another…” Romans 12:16
“...Have equal concern for each other.” I Corinthians 12:25
“Carry each other’s burdens…” Galatians 6:2
“...Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
But this is not just for within the church body, we are also told to extend that care and compassion beyond the boundaries of the church and love those around us.
Suicide prevention charities talk about helping people to have a “piggy bank” of hope. Things that will sustain them and allow them to continue even at their lowest. Things that give them a reason to live. In my experience these can be all kinds of things for people: dogs, people, their work, events, holidays. I don’t want to undermine them because they are important, but they are all temporary.
Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches…remain in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit”. Through Jesus death and resurrection and accepting the truth that his blood can cover our sins we can fully connect to God. We can know him as Father. As someone who is always there for us and always will be there however we are feeling. He lives in us through his Holy Spirit. He gives us a hope and a future.
I long to say to patients I meet in my work life: “Find Jesus; find a church; that will help you”. I know Jesus will, but there is part of me that wonders whether the local church will. Alan Snuggs, in Surrounded by Jesus: Confessions of a Flawed Christian, talks honestly about how the church both was and wasn’t there for him in his episode of mid life depression. It is hard reading and raises the question “Would your church would do better presented with an unwell church leader?” How do we walk alongside people with mental health problems in our churches in the right way? How much are we teaching our congregation about these issues? How do we find the balance of offering support and pointing to God? How do we not burnout in the process? In the face of rising rates of mental health problems in the UK and shrinking public and third sector provision these are questions each church needs to address.
We know that Jesus is the hope of the world, that he can fill our “piggy banks” of hope to overflowing. But there are also people with long-term mental health problems who would benefit from being part of a church community even if they don’t receive healing and find it hard to see the fullness of their eternal “piggy bank”. The church can be the “Hub of Hope” for our communities. I don’t know how many churches are listed on the app or the website but we do have a message of hope, of connectedness that is deeper and more powerful than anything the world can offer. Is your church prepared to sign up and offer it?
Rachel Ruddy works as a Consultant in the NHS and is a regular preacher at Church in the Peak, Buxton.