The UK is facing a mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic. People have been more isolated than ever before and have faced increased anxiety around health, job security and the welfare of loved ones, causing the mental health of many to suffer.

In the Queen’s speech, which marked the opening of a new session of parliament, the issue was addressed as the Government set out its Mental Health Recovery Action Plan. There will be a one-off targeted investment of £500 million to ensure that support is in place over the coming year for everyone who needs it. However, experts say that NHS services have a very real risk of being over-run, and many people’s needs are desperate.

In the face of a mental health crisis, how can followers of Jesus be salt and light to those who are suffering?

Be informed

In order to help, it is vital that Christians are informed about the situation. New analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has found: 

  • Nearly 400,000 children and 2.2m adults sought help for mental health problems during the pandemic.
  • 1.68m more mental health sessions were delivered during the pandemic, up by a fifth on 2019 to 3.58 million.
  • 80,226 more children and young people were referred to mental health services between April and December last year, up by 28 per cent on the same time period in 2019.
  • 18,269 children and young people needed urgent or emergency crisis care, including assessments to see if someone needs to be sectioned because they or others are at risk of harm. This is an increase of 18 per cent on 2019.

NHS digital data shows that while the crisis is affecting people of all ages, it is under-18s who are suffering most. More children than ever before are being treated by eating disorder services and waiting for the care they need. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that people from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds may also be suffering disproportionately. There have also been huge increases in the number of people reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms, and the number of people reporting being lonely has reached record levels.

As so many are suffering, it is important for Christians to think what we can be doing to love our neighbours.

Be biblically motivated

As Christians, we don’t just want to understand how we should respond to situations such as this, but why. Knowing Jesus should impact every area of life, and give us a motivation behind everything we do, including engaging in the country’s mental health crisis.

We worship a God who is filled with compassion for those who are suffering (Matthew 9:36), and therefore we should treat people in this same way, as we are called to be witnesses to God in the world (Acts 1:8). Christians are to be gentle and kind (Galatians 5:23), and seek justice for others (Isaiah 1:17). Therefore we should speak up for those who are suffering.

We worship Jesus, who can now sympathise with our weakness and every struggle we face physically, mentally or spiritually because He became human (Hebrews 4:15). He is doing this today, now, even as He is seated in heaven. This offer of being known, understood and loved by the creator of all things is unbelievably good news for those who are hurting, and should be lovingly shared. This biblical understanding should translate to words and actions.

Speak up

We are called to be people who advocate for the suffering. If mental ill-health is increasing in your community, you could reach out to your local MP to express your concerns about this. It might be helpful to speak with friends who are suffering with poor mental health, to find out what they think needs to change. Consider standing with them and talk about this to your local representative. For guidance on where to start, the Evangelical Alliance’s Connect resource offers advice on how to go about engaging with local representatives on issues you care about in a gracious and distinctive way.

Reach out

In our church settings, take time to think about the word hospitality”. We probably know intellectually that as Christians we are meant to be hospitable, but do we recognise that in the Bible this is most often spoken of in regard to strangers (Leviticus 19:34)? As restrictions lift and we are able to host others once again, let us actively seek not only to exercise our social muscles with friends, and those we are naturally drawn to, but the outsider, the newcomer and the stranger in our churches.

Statistics suggest that there will be people in our congregations, workplaces and friendship groups who are battling an eating disorder, depression, anxiety or loneliness. We can seek to be perceptive of those who may be struggling and sensitive to their needs.

When faced with a friend or family member who is struggling with their mental health, be intentional and verbal in showing your support. Express concern and reassure them. Ask them what you can do to help. Listen, and be patient.

Be bold

As Christians who want to offer hope to others, the most powerful tool we have is to speak of Jesus. Gently, sensitively, as people discuss their own mental health issues, or their concern over the crisis, speak of how knowing Jesus has personally impacted your life, and perhaps your own story of mental health struggles. Speak of Jesus, who can sympathise with every weakness and struggle we face, and who offers rest to those weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). Speak of Jesus, who invites everyone to know Him and be known by Him, and who promises that one day we can have ultimate freedom from our sufferings if we choose to trust Him.

With those who are struggling, times when it may be appropriate to share your faith might be few and far between. Let your focus be on listening, understanding and showing compassion. But be prepared for if the time comes when someone asks for your experience, your hope or your wisdom when it comes to mental health, knowing that as Christians we really do have the best news to offer.

Here at the Evangelical Alliance, some of our member churches and organisations are doing the crucial work of taking action to support better mental health. Read what three of them had to say on how your church can help those struggling with mental health amid the unlocking.

For more information on supporting those with mental health issues, please visit Helping others with mental health problems on the NHS website.

This offer of being known, understood and loved by the creator of all things is unbelievably good news for those who are hurting, and should be lovingly shared.