Words of Hope for Those Struggling With Mental Health
An interview on normalizing conversations on the topic of mental health.
Posted December 10, 2020
Mental health is often a taboo topic of conversation. However, in not talking about it, we limit those struggling with mental health to keep it hidden, left alone in their struggles without sources of help. In this interview, Ryan Casey Waller shares about his book, which provides a safe space of conversation and hope for those walking through journeys with mental health.
Ryan Casey Waller is a writer, therapist, lawyer, and Episcopal priest living in Dallas with his wife and children. Ryan Casey Waller will release his upcoming book, Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About on Jan. 5, 2021, via Thomas Nelson.
Jamie Aten: Why did you set out to write your book?
Ryan Casey Waller: I wrote this book because when I needed it, it wasn’t there. I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else. I want other people who struggle with depression and anxiety to feel less lonely on their journey and have a book that they not only identify with but also use as a guide toward health and an abundant life.
I also wrote the book because we’re facing a mental health crisis in this country, and I believe that having a conversation about mental health among Christians will not only help countless people but also allow Christians to lead the way in a conversation that is long overdue in the church and in the wider culture. The church must first and foremost be a place where people can find healing in the unconditional love of God. But in order for this to happen, the spirit of the church must be one that allows Christians to be open about their physical and spiritual pain and also their psychological and emotional pain—without the consequence of antiquated stigma.
I hope the book pushes the conversation surrounding mental health and mental illness forward so we collectively grow more comfortable not simply talking about it but also being able to embrace and even laud the wonders of the therapeutic process. As the well-known Internet meme teaches, “It’s OK to love Jesus and have a therapist.” Yes and yes!
JA: What is the primary takeaway you hope readers will learn from reading your book?
RCW: I want readers who struggle with their mental health to know they’re not alone. One in four Americans experiences a mental health struggle each and every year. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. This is not a fringe topic but one that affects millions of people.
I want to acknowledge how pervasive these struggles are in order to normalize the conversation, which I hope encourages people to reach out and ask for the help they need. I often tell clients that pretending we aren’t depressed is a fabulous way to make sure we’re still depressed tomorrow. The same is true for us as a collective society. If we want to get healthier, we have to first admit we’re sick.
But in order for those who suffer to feel safe talking about their circumstances, we have to reduce the stigma. We do that by talking about it, and by letting people know they’re not alone.
JA: What are some lessons from your book that can help people live more resiliently?
RCW: Resilience is often thought of as a special trait possessed by only a few special folks—people like Tom Brady, who is able to win a Super Bowl while “over the hill,” or Jeff Bezos, who managed to become the richest person in the world after abysmal failures. The reality, however, is that resilience is far more common than we think. In fact, a cursory glance at human behavior suggests we are naturally more resilient than not.
One need only consider how societies respond collectively to great tragedy. While it’s true that some people do not respond well to adversity, the majority of people find the strength to get up, dust themselves off, and band together to return, rebuild, and re-vision anew what has been lost. We all have the ability to do this but our ability is impaired when our mental health suffers. The more sensitively we tend to our mental health, the more resilient we will be.
JA: What are some insights from your book that help readers support a friend or loved one?
RCW: The most important thing to remember is that your friend or loved one doesn’t need you to be an expert on mental health. People are often intimidated to ask about mental health out of fear they won’t know what to do or say. The good news is that our loved ones who suffer don’t need our counsel nearly as much as they need our presence and our attention.
If you suspect someone is suffering, ask, ask, ask. And then, listen, listen, listen. Our world is so full of noise that many of us—especially those who struggle with mental health—feel alone and convinced no one genuinely cares about our well-being. Simply having someone ask the question and then actively listen can be wildly curative in and of itself.
When the listening is finished, there is no need to “offer” anything else other than the following statement: “You know, I imagine feeling like you do is really painful. I also know there are professionals who are trained to treat that kind of pain. Maybe you should reach out to someone?”
JA: What are you currently working on these days?
RCW: I’m working on a manuscript that takes up the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. Similar to mental health, the Christian community hasn’t historically done a good job of discussing the beauty and complexity of sexuality and how it is deeply interwoven into our spirituality.
I hope to bring to light some long-overdue conversations about sex that might help us move toward a more holistic and nurturing understanding of the great gift of sexuality. I am also interested in how forms of toxic masculinity have warped the American male experience of sex, and what we might do to offer a positive way forward, both for the healing of men and the women and men who have been hurt along the way.
JA: Anything else you would like to share?
RCW: I want readers to know that mental illness is not a condemnation of their character nor is it a judgment upon their life choices. Some of us struggle with our mental health as some of us struggle with our blood pressure. There is no shame in battling depression or anxiety. I want so badly for every person who suffers to know that asking for help is never a weakness, only a strength.