In British folklore there is a saying ‘It never rains but it pours’, meaning when bad things happen, usually other bad things strike at the same time. How soberingly fitting for the cultural moment in the UK today! Britain is enduring prolonged uncertainty and pain from both disease and divorce through COVID-19 and Brexit respectively.

Compounded by nuanced lockdown restrictions across the four nations, intermittent reports of inexcusable racial prejudices, and seemingly irreconcilable settlement demands between the British and European Parliaments, this is a lot for the UK to bear and battle at once. It’s therefore unsurprising to hear reports of worsening mental health problems in our families and communities; many of whom for the first time. So, what are we doing about it?

Conversation listening

Listening is as important as talking, says WordGo's Simon Lennox. PICTURE: Aarón Blanco Tejedor/Unsplash.

According to Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters platform, more than four in five (84.2 per cent) of Brits are worried about the effect that coronavirus is having on their life, with over half (53.1 per cent) saying it is affecting their wellbeing and almost half (46.9 per cent) reporting high levels of anxiety. No doubt, many of whom feel like they’ve failed and are weak human beings but simply don’t know that this is OK, common, and that they should get help.

We are, of course, indebted to professionally trained psychiatrists, counsellors, therapists and other support services (if you’re reading, we are grateful!). However this crisis is too great for mental health professionals to counter alone. We’ve all got a part to play to hit this head on. Talking is an important start, yet there is another complementary action we can all practice, which is one of the most neglected expressions of love – and that is to listen.

"The healing power of listening reminds me of the wisdom from God through James in the New Testament: 'Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires'. (James 1:19-20). Sadly, we often see the reverse on social media; and perhaps your own listening skills were tested when having to spend an inordinate amount of time indoors in your bubble during lockdown."

The healing power of listening reminds me of the wisdom from God through James in the New Testament: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20). Sadly, we often see the reverse on social media; and perhaps your own listening skills were tested when having to spend an inordinate amount of time indoors in your bubble during lockdown.

But James’ words are not only an encouragement to listen more to one another, for as the ancient adage of Greek philosophy says: ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’. There is an even deeper individual application of this call to listen: to courageously and humbly bring one’s whole self before the living God, share everything that is going on in our minds, and let the Holy Spirit gently yet powerfully speak into what's going on in our heart’s present crisis.

When teaching about the reality of spiritual warfare in serving and following the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul says he "takes every thought captive to obey Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5). This idea of capturing, examining, and realigning our thought life with the light, wisdom, power and grace of God in flesh, Jesus Christ, is immensely practical, and nowadays, profoundly radical.

Our culture already favours the therapeutic technique of mindfulness, particularly in the booming fitness industry. In essence, this is a practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. As a fitness professional, I very much recognise how mindfulness and exercise can make big improvements to mental health, but they’re just not enough because in the end we are still left alone, listening to ourselves. What we really need is a voice outside of ourselves - to capture our thoughts and allow them to be exposed, redirected, enlightened, and healed by the wisdom of God in Christ. 

To help one another through the mental health crisis (and its long-term implications) caused by the pandemic, Britain needs to talk, but Britain also needs to listen. We need one another, as well as mental health professionals, and together as one community we need our Creator God now more than ever. We need wisdom from above by the Holy Spirit, given through the timeless and living words of the Bible - that means the most radical thing we could do for our own mental health is therefore to be in conversation with God, in prayer and in Scripture. Ultimately, if we are going to face the uncertainties of life - death, disease or famine – we need to start the day with our certainties in Christ. 

As CS Lewis puts it: "It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in." 

Simon Lennox is a director of WordGo, a free Bible study app for both individual and group study. WordGo is designed to "help you slow down and tune in to what Scripture has to say, and prayerfully apply it with the help of the Holy Spirit". Available from your app store.