This is not for those roaring into the 2020s. This is for those for whom something is amiss. In this year when everything is broken, you fear that something broke deep inside. Just as a lump in my neck once alerted me to cancer, there is an unexplained mass in your spirit. You know it might disappear but it could wreck everything.

Its manifestations include panic, anger, tears, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, loss of confidence or putting too much rubbish in your body or your mind. I prefer to call it a breakdown (but this is no longer a medical diagnosis, which is good because I’m not a doctor). Breakdowns, in this context, might include an array of medical diagnoses as well as conditions which are circumstantial or even spiritual.

Roadside signs

Signs posted on a fence in Oregon in the US. PICTURE: Dan Meyers/Unsplash.

Our loss of mental health was the pandemic long before the pandemic. It claims the lives of 800,000 people globally every year and ruins the lives of millions more. COVID-19 has fed it steroids, exposing our vulnerability and widening its scope. Everyone I know is having weird and dubious emotions.

Governments have never fought breakdowns with the rigour given to the coronavirus. Yet, they will still be with us when we tell our 2020 tales to those not yet born. Being a mental health chaplain has taught me that confronting breakdowns is probably even trickier than confronting COVID-19. But if you have felt like you (or a plate that you’re spinning) are about to drop, there are six F words that might help.

"Our loss of mental health was the pandemic long before the pandemic. It claims the lives of 800,000 people globally every year and ruins the lives of millions more. COVID-19 has fed it steroids, exposing our vulnerability and widening its scope. Everyone I know is having weird and dubious emotions."

Face it. How bad is it? What is the “edge” in your edginess and how ‘on edge’ are you? Scribble down on a piece of paper your negative feelings, your biggest fears or your worst thoughts. Just as you can only hold a breath in for so long, you can only suppress your feelings for so long. Face them.

Fess Up. If your edge is to something harmful or damaging, get medical help. If you can’t do that, ring the Samaritans, phone a friend, tell someone.  Share it with someone who won’t judge. Men are really bad at this so if your macho mate tries a joke, push past it, he might just be amazing.

Freeze. I believe that every sickness is more spiritual than we think.  At the very least we ask questions like, “Why me?”. The Old Testament boy band, the Sons of Korah, sang “Be still, and know that I am God.” This could be interpreted as “cease striving”. While you may not be a person of faith, try this - find a quiet place and hold a frozen ice cube on the palm of your hand. For as long as it takes to melt, imagine that you are not alone, that you are loved and that there is hope for another day.

Freak Out. I once confided in a therapist one thing I do to help. I smash rocks on deserted beaches while screaming things that couldn't, wouldn't and shouldn't be heard in church. She told me that she enjoys a similar ritual at the bottle bank! Rage rooms, which offer the same sort of thing, are all the, pardon the pun, rage at the moment. While there are dangers in the constant practice of anger, finding a safe way to vent can be helpful.

Flex. During the World War II, the British Government were concerned that people would be so comfortable in the air raid shelters that they wouldn't want to leave. They were wrong. Everyone wanted to go home. Our government were equally wrong underestimating how hard it would be to get people back to work (before further restrictions allowed us to stay in our comfort zone). A day in our life before lockdown may now seem like a daunting Antarctic adventure. So start with something small. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, fear stopped the servant from ‘flexing’ his talent. The master said that he could have at least got some interest in the bank. From this I understand, “Do something rather than nothing". Go somewhere, meet someone, try something new. Flex a little. Then flex a little bit more.

Follow. Preachers, like me, have often added to mental health struggles with things like shame or demons. In part, this led to a loss of trust among professionals who treat our breakdowns. This might be helped by following Jesus simply by just reading about Him. I don’t know if He got depressed and we don’t know if He laughed, but we are told this: “He is a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief". The verse “Jesus wept” inspired poet John Donne to write, “There is not a shorter verse in the Bible, nor a larger text". I believe it is ‘large’ because, in the dark mysterious currents of our souls, there is no place God cannot go. The stream of weeping with a first-century family becomes, Donne writes, a river when Jesus sobs over Jerusalem. In the loud wailing of Gethsemane, it is an ocean of grace, empathy and compassion for you in the 21st century.

Just before lockdown, I started writing daily emails for our church called ‘Because No Matter What, You Matter.” The message of Christ is that no matter what has been done by us or to us, we can’t stop mattering to God. Our emotions, whether caused by chemicals, trauma, prejudice or false narratives often tell us that we don’t matter and our feelings don’t either. World Mental Health Day is another chance to stand against those lies with prayer, people and professional help. Find a little faith in God and those around you to get some help, because no matter what, you matter.