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Ryan Casey Waller Shares Hope During Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental Health Crisis

Ryan Casey Waller believes that we are seeing a mental health crisis in America like never before. Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, people are flat out struggling. Working and attending school from home, and not being around friends and extended family consistently has led to loneliness and isolation. Waller points out the Church has a tremendous opportunity to lead the conversation in helping those afflicted and how to have that dialogue without shame. In his latest book, Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don’t Want to Talk About, Waller offers practical wisdom on how to become equipped to support loved ones with mental illness while promoting healthy self-care. Furthermore, he seeks to help people understand that our true self lies in our relationship with God.

Coming into the COVID-19 pandemic, we were already in what a lot of researchers would describe as a mental health epidemic. The data shows that in recent years, one in four Americans will experience a mental health struggle within a year. And what we also know about those numbers is that they're widely underreported due to the great stigma that's attached to mental health and mental illness. So, we're starting with 25% of the population already struggling to the point where suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Amongst people ages 14 to 24, it's the second leading cause of death. We were already in a situation where we're seeing a deterioration of mental health. Then the pandemic comes along and primarily the way that people are affected is through creating isolation. People are pulled back (from their normal lives). Many work at home. They can't go to school. They can't socialize in the ways that they typically can. And what we know concerning mental health is one of the key factors. One of the key resources that we mental health professionals use when people are struggling is their support networks. 

As a licensed therapist and ordained Episcopal priest who used to be a lawyer before that, Waller says, “Early in my career, I struggled myself with depression and anxiety.” His rock bottom came when he showed up to church drunk. He was forced to come to terms with his depression and anxiety. He explains, “After that disaster of Sunday, I couldn’t deny it...The wildest part, however, was that if you would have asked me how I was doing the afternoon before, I would have told you I was fine. And I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Waller wrote this book because he wants to normalize this conversation, provide some basic conversation starters to mental health and also share that this can happen to anyone. He explains, “Mental illness doesn't discriminate. I can talk about these issues from my credentialing, as a pastor, and as a therapist. But I also talk about this as a co-sufferer. I'm not Moses up on the mountain top. I'm just an Israelite down in the valley. I know these pains. I experienced these pains. I have to deal with these pains.”

One of the best ways we know is that data shows when a person struggles with their mental health, the first two people that they tell, are their primary care physician and their pastor. This means the pastors have a really important role here. Here's what can help. People listen to what comes out of the pulpit. So, what pastors can do to help tremendously is simply talk about this. Include it in the conversation. 

Waller also talks about the three main tools that help those struggling which include talk therapy, medication, and other people. 

He wants those reading the book to understand that their deepest identity is as a child of God and any struggle they have with their health is just an aspect of their identity. It is not their (entire) identity. He shares, “I hope that they would be moved, encouraged, and inspired to go get the help that they need. And then for the people who love people who struggle, I would hope that they come away from the book with greater empathy for those who struggle and that they would pick up some practical tools to help in how they can talk to their friends and family and how they might encourage them” (excerpts taken from article).

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