Rachel Waugh, a young person from Belfast who was part of Autumn Soul this year, has shared her story about her own mental health with us.
“What is it like surviving with a mental health illness?
I use the word ‘surviving’ rather than ‘living’ because that’s often what it feels like, simply trying to keep your head above the waves. Of course everyone’s situations in life are unique so I can only speak from my own experience with mental health illnesses over the last 5 years, but I hope it can bring awareness to this subject and give hope to those deep in the battle.
I started struggling with anxiety in my first year of secondary school and I didn’t know what was happening. We were not taught about mental health in primary school so I thought I was going insane and completely lost my faith in God. Why would a supposedly ‘good God’ make me go through this? I was certain He had left me so I concluded that there must not be a God and therefore didn’t believe He existed which, let me tell you, is pretty difficult when your dad is a minister and your house has crosses and Bible verses stuck up everywhere! I only decided to look back at Christianity again when I started getting better after going to therapy for about a year and a half. I began to pick up my life again and one of the parts of it that had completely collapsed was the spiritual aspect. I finally commenced building my relationship back up with God and learned that He had never actually left and it was me who had got up and walked away.
A couple of years go by of building my faith and I got to a place where I accepted Jesus as my saviour one night in my room. That was last year. Little did I know how important that moment would be for me for the next season of my life.
In September 2019, I started getting panic attacks that would come at a moment’s notice, anywhere and anytime which, as you can imagine, disrupted my life entirely. Just like 3 years prior, I stopped being able to get into school, I stopped going to church, I stopped going out with my friends and my entire life fell apart. I was in a constant state of survival mode and running on little sleep due to insomnia. After a couple months of this, I started to fall into depression which took me right down to the lowest point I have ever been in my life. One aspect of my life that stayed strong though this time was my faith in God. As a consequence of insomnia, I would be up almost right through the whole night and so I would use this time to lift my hands and silently praise Him through worship music which is where I feel His presence the most. I genuinely believe that if it wasn’t for him, I would not be writing this article that you are reading right now.
At the time of writing this, I have been taking medication and going to therapy for almost a year and it has truly helped me to get where I am today. I know for a fact that my story is not the only one like it. The number of young people facing mental health issues in the UK and Ireland has been steadily increasing over the last few years.
According to mentalhealth.org.uk, 1 in 8 young people in the UK alone struggle with a mental health illness which, put into context, is about 3 or 4 young people per average school class. I think it’s so important, as Christians, that we reach out to those struggling with mental health illnesses and let them know that they don’t have to go through it alone and aren’t ‘weak’ or ‘shameful’ for seeking medical help. Simple texts from family (and even those who hardly knew me) saying they were praying for me and my parent’s patience and reassurance both helped me immensely. It costs nothing to be kind or to check in with someone but could easily save someone’s life. If you yourself are having a hard time, know that you are worth fighting for and loved by those around you, but most importantly God who loves unconditionally. He put you here for a reason and it may not be totally obvious just yet but His timing is always perfect.
Keep on letting that beautiful light that God put in you, shine!
– Rachel Waugh
Do you think your young people can relate to this? Why not share this testimony with them- they may get some encouragement from reading Rachel’s story!
You could also check out the resource “Head Strong” from Youthscape. This session is based on 2 key bible passages from the New Testament and gives you a chance to talk openly and honestly with your youth group about mental health and anxiety with the help of respected psychologist Dr Kate Middleton. Click here to check it out.