Self- Care: Spirituality Meets Mental Health

So can we talk about the huge elephant in the room? Mental health is not a particularly popular topic to talk about in the church. Usually it starts with, “don’t let the enemy have your mind!” and ends right there. The moment you even think about having a conversation about how to address having a sound mind aside from prayer, it is often insinuated (or flat out said) that you are of little faith and need to go back into the Word.

However, I believe it is quite irresponsible as believers not to address this topic more deeply. Because at the end of the day, mental health is real, mental illness is real, and  God is real. But so is treatment!

Recently, social media strategist and writer Lenora Houseworth-Weston published an article on curlynikki.com entitled, “Dear Black Women, We Can’t Pray Mental Illness Away.” I was honored to be featured alongside licensed psychotherapist and mental health consultant Jessmina “Minaa B” Archbold, as we shared our thoughts on self-care as it pertains to mental health and spirituality, particularly in the Black community.

After reading some of the comments on the article, I thought it would be quite beneficial to share my full interview responses as well! The article was definitely an amazing way to get this very necessary conversation started on mental health and spirituality. I hope my following responses to Lenora’s questions help continue the conversation even further and encourage other ministry leaders/believers to do the same.

1. Most media inundates us talking about self-care from the sense of lighting a candle and meditating. How do you define self-care?

“It is sooo much more than that! Yes, those are a couple practices, but to me, self-care means any action or strategy that is demonstrating a love for yourself and is helping you do better and free yourself in mind, body, & spirit (& even finances). It means you don’t just care for your body, but then neglect your mental health. Or nourish your mind and neglect your spirit. To me, genuine self-care encompasses all 3, daily.”

2. Why is self-care and mental health practices so important for black women in particular?

“Of course it’s important for everyone, but black women in particular because we have and continue to go through so much! We endure a lot as a double minority, in both gender and skin color. In addition, I think a lot of us have been raised with the caretaker mindset, responsibility or expectation in one way or another, as well as the assumption that since we are black women we must automatically be “strong.” And I believe to many, strength implies no “weakness.” Now I’d never call us weak, but at the end of the day, we all have “weak” moments— we are HUMAN. And humans, whether men or women need REST, good nutritional/wellness practices and spiritual fulfillment.

The truth is, when you’re so used to being “strong” and taking care of others all of the time, it can be so easy to forget to care for yourself— let alone prioritize it! Especially as a woman raised by a Caribbean mother, I know that sharing and embracing being vulnerable hasn’t always been seen as a positive. But it is necessary! Our humanity isn’t a weakness; it is a part of us we need to embrace and care for as much as we do the divine parts of us. In addition, so many of us have experienced so much trauma that has never been appropriately dealt with, worked through or even talked about because it has become so normalized to the point where it’s almost expected and consequently dismissed. And none of that is okay!

Sooner or later, we’re going to need to recognize and understand that part of being strong means being strong enough to practice self-care DAILY— not just when it’s convenient, easy or as an afterthought. We must prioritize our self- care because if we don’t, then who will? We must be able to see ourselves as a priority and worth the self-investment because we are all so deserving of living whole, healthy and fulfilling lives. And besides, the better we take care of ourselves, the better we can serve others and work in our purpose.”

3. What are your thoughts on black women thinking spirituality and church can help with their mental distress?

“I think that it’s great when we think that, because it’s so true! I believe spirituality and mental health go hand in hand. Spirituality and church are great for finding strength and healing— but only if we are willing to do the WORK as well. I love God and consider myself a woman of great faith. But I truly do believe that faith without works is dead. Period. We can’t just show up to church religiously every Sunday and think that our problems will just disappear without us putting in any effort. Just like we wouldn’t get hit by a car and head straight to church with broken bones instead of the ER, we shouldn’t just be struggling mentally and not seek out professional help/therapy.

I don’t think treatment and spirituality are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe the best healing comes when you join the two together. We have to meet God halfway. If we truly believe the verse “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me,” we cannot ignore the action word, “do.” It is our duty to take part in our own lives and our own healing (whether mental, physical etc) as well, with the guiding help/strength of the Lord.”

4. In your opinion, when is self-care alone not enough?

“Never! I say that only because the way I see it, receiving treatment and learning strategies to heal ARE a part of self-care. I know people mention lighting candles and meditating sometimes like it’s silly or just for fun, but it’s actually a great way to cope with anxiety— if that’s what works for you! And that is only just ONE strategy that should be used in addition to other treatment options. That is why it is so important to seek therapy or professional help if you are struggling with your mental health.”

5. What are some signs that we need professional help that we should look for and why do we ignore them?

“Well first and foremost, if you’ve went through any sort of trauma, you should seek professional help. Period. Especially if this trauma is violence or abuse related in any way (& yes, that includes physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse). However, I do think one reason this sign is often ignored is because a lot of the time, we don’t even realize that much of what we’ve been through qualifies as trauma— and should not be the norm!

Other signs of needing professional help would be prolonged and intense feelings of sadness, helplessness or rage and engaging in self-harm in any way (i.e being in unsafe/toxic relationships, cutting, forced purging/vomiting, substance abuse, self-medicating, drastic loss/gain of weight in short amount of time etc). Again, these are things we don’t really like to talk about and often see, only to dismiss or leave unaddressed due to the stigma around it.”

6. What are some of your practices for taking care of yourself mentally?

“Writing! Writing! Writing! Whether it is journaling, writing down quotes/scriptures that inspire me, or writing poetry, it always helps me unpack my thoughts and feelings, release my fears and joys, and even encourage myself. It’s also an awesome way to track my progress, as well as any patterns in my anxiety and triggers. In addition, praying helps me immensely mentally, as it is a great way to release and be filled back up, whether I am speaking my prayers aloud or writing them down.

Reading is also another self-care practice I like to engage in daily. Whether it is poetry, self-help/elevation, the Bible or a novel, reading helps me stay calm, distract my mind from itself or simply fill my brain with positivity. Lastly, dancing and singing are two of my favorite self-care practices. Even though they involve my body, it consistently helps me free myself from anxiety and depression. Singing and dancing especially help free my mind because while I am singing and dancing, I am no longer focused on what’s going on in my mind. Instead, I am simply being present in the song or dance and am too busy catching on to the choreography/movements or paying attention to the words/notes of a song.”

I hope you enjoyed this post! As a Christian woman and ministry leader — who also has a Master’s Degree in General/Experimental Psychology, as well as training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) — this topic is so dear to my heart! I fully believe that God still can, will and does heal mental illness, but I also believe that just as treatment is sought out & accepted as the norm for physical ailments, additional treatment should be sought out & accepted for mental illness as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please feel free to share or comment below!

Love & light,

 WhitMcWrites😘

#WhitsWisdom

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