Perhaps you’ve noticed that awareness about issues surrounding mental health has risen sharply in recent years. More and more people have been coming forward, sharing their own experiences of their struggles with depression and anxiety. New articles and books about this topic seem to come out every month. In Australia, RU OK? day in September has become a national annual fixture. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and various lockdowns have led to a sharp decline in mental health around the world.
But despite growing awareness, increased activism, and an abundance of information and think pieces, the mental health crisis doesn’t seem to be getting any better. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. What’s going on here? If the current ways of tackling the problem aren’t working, how might we go about addressing it? Furthermore, how are we as Christians to think about mental health issues? And what role can we play as a community to help those who struggle?
Links referred to:
- The Family Systems Institute
- Growing Yourself Up (Jenny Brown)
- Confident Parenting (Jenny Brown)
- 2021 New College Lectures (5-7 October)
- The Parent Hope Project
- Our October event: Raising the next generation with Paul Dudley and Mark Earngey (20 October)
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 42:31 min.
Karen Beilharz: Hi, everyone, it’s Karen Beilharz from the Centre for Christian living here, back on the podcast for the first time in three years, I think. My goodness, has it been that long? I’m stepping in briefly for CCL director Chase Kuhn, who is currently on leave, and I’m here to introduce this episode of the CCL podcast.
It’s about a subject that’s very close to my heart: mental health, that is our emotional, psychological and social well-being, and all the things that are included in that. Perhaps you’ve noticed that awareness about issues surrounding mental health has risen sharply in recent years. More and more people—ordinary, everyday people, but also celebrities from all walks of life—have been coming forward, sharing their own experiences of their struggles with depression and anxiety. New articles and books about this topic seem to come out every month. In Australia, RU OK? day in September has become a national annual fixture. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and various lockdowns have led to a sharp decline in mental health around the world.
But despite growing awareness, increased activism, and an abundance of information and think pieces, the mental health crisis doesn’t seem to be getting any better. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. What’s going on here? If the current ways of tackling the problem aren’t working, how might we go about addressing it? Furthermore, how are we as Christians to think about mental health issues? And what role can we play as a community to help those who struggle? These are the things that we’ll be discussing in this episode of the Centre for Christian living podcast. Enjoy!
PG: Well, hi and welcome to the Centre for Christian living podcast. My name is Paul Grimmond and I’m the Dean of Students at Moore Theological College here in Sydney, Australia. And I’m stepping in today for CCL director Chase Kuhn, who is currently on leave. And now, for this episode, I’m joined by Dr Jenny Brown. Jenny is Director Emeritus of the Family Systems Institute in Sydney, which has been providing training and clinical services in Bowen Family Systems approaches since 2004. She has nearly 40 years of clinical experience in child, couple and family health, and that’s also been an area of research interest for her. And she’s authored a number of books, including Growing Yourself Up and Confident Parenting. Jenny, welcome to the CCL podcast.
JB: Thank you, Paul. Thanks for having me.
PG: Not at all. It’s a real joy to have you. Now, you’ve been working hard in just recent times on a set of lectures that you’re doing for the New College Annual Lectures, called “Nurture: Confronting a crisis”. And if I understand it rightly, at a broad level, you’re seeking to ask whether our approach to mental health issues may be, in some way, contributing to the problem that we’re experiencing, as well as perhaps alleviating it. And so to get into that, I just thought I’d ask, what exactly do you think the nature of the problem is? You’ve used the word “crisis” in your title; how bad is the mental health situation in our country?
JB: Wow, yeah, it’s such a big question, and I [am] humbly cautious, taking this topic on, because there are many, many people who are truly, genuinely suffering from the effects of heightened sustained stress that presents itself in some debilitating symptoms. And certainly, all the stats point to a crisis, a snowballing situation that, during the pandemic, has been amplified—that the pandemic and lockdown hasn’t created it. It’s brought to the surface vulnerabilities that were already there and already burgeoning—really out of control.
Just a couple of examples, Paul, from the literature: in just a decade prior to the pandemic, to 2017, there’s a 13 per cent rise in mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and [in] children and adolescents, the stats are showing a 20 per cent increase in mental health conditions over just that decade. And then the pandemic, it’s accelerated even more, and people will have seen in the media, the presentations of young people at emergency departments; self-harm, particularly for young women and girls, but not exclusively so, is really ratcheting up; and emergency departments and colleagues of mine in psychiatry and mental health in the hospital system are really overloaded—overwhelmed. So that’s a little bit of the backdrop to it.
And what I’m doing in this series of lectures is just inviting people to be curious about the question: is the kind of help that’s being provided—while clearly some of it is assisting and a lot of scientific research has gone into some areas of treatment—is it really the help that helps? Because we’ve been throwing, in the last 50 years, so many more resources at mental health treatment. But the evidence is not showing an improvement. It’s showing a worsening. So I’m just opening up this question sensitively—
JB: —about “Is the kind of nurture and the kind of help that’s being medicalised—professionalised—is it truly the best match for this problem?”
PG: Yeah. Now I’ll return to that in a minute. One of the things that I’ve heard people suggest is perhaps mental health issues were always there; it’s just that they’ve been hidden under the carpet, because of stigma and other social issues. And perhaps the changing attitude to mental health has allowed more of it to come out into the open. But it sounds to me, Jenny, like you’re suggesting that it’s more—that’s not the only dynamic that’s taking place.
JB: I think, in looking carefully at the more recent literature, Paul, and preparing for this lecture series, it is very clear that this is much bigger than a removal of stigma.
PG: Yeah, right. Yeah, interesting.
JB: This is a bigger problem of vulnerability across the population—some areas of the population more than others: I’ve already mentioned girls and young women; young parents; people with underlying vulnerabilities and high stress, such as our First Nations people; the impact of adversity and disenfranchisement. There are certain backdrop issues that render some parts of the population as struggling more than others.
PG: Yeah, yeah, it’s very sad, isn’t it? Now, Jenny, in your talks, you’ve chosen to particularly tackle this word “nurture”. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by “nurture” in a mental health context.
JB: Well, I think it is word—it’s a lovely word. It’s a non-medicalised word. It’s nicer than “treatment”, “healing”, “fixing”, and I am cautious of the implications of medicalised terms in the mental health field. Matters of the heart, mind and soul are bigger than the classic medical area of a specialty like cardiology, even though our physical health is linked to our stress health.
So the word “nurture” is much more humane and speaks to, if you look at the dictionary definition, it speaks to the kind of involvement that nurtures growth and development. And that’s a different dynamic to a fixing focus—of what kind of help enables a person to grow and develop, utilising the God-given resources that they have, rather than this idea of an external professional treatment.
PG: Just exploring that idea for a minute, you kind of said, this is a problem, in a sense, that’s been medicalised in some way in our community. And it sounds to me like you’re arguing for a much more holistic understanding of what brings about things like anxiety and depression for people. What is it about the medicalisation that’s problematic? And what does it not acknowledge, I guess?
JB: Well, again, I am aware that many people have been helped by the improvements in psychopharmacology, medication, and results show—I’ve got a couple of results I brought along today that certainly, in looking at treatment of depression, 54 per cent of adults show improvement after antidepressant medication. So I’m not saying that there isn’t helpfulness from the science that’s gone into the treatment of depression and anxiety, the biggest areas of mental health. But what you don’t hear about is that in the stats—and one particular study—the same study—is showing that 53 per cent of adults with untreated depression show improvement within a 12-month period. We don’t have as much research into that, and the research dollars go into affirming where the money’s going.
And so when we don’t have research into non-medicalised treatments, and that’s an important thing to consider—the many ways that people improve their health and well-being in the context of community, family, church, nature, which we’ve appreciated during lockdown, haven’t we—just the health benefits of getting outside—and some of these things have, perhaps, have much better efficacy than medicalised treatment, an area that has been increasingly professionalised. There are so many organisations now for mental health professionals. So these are the questions I’m putting out there for people to consider.
JB: And one of my key areas, Paul, and it has been an area of research, is that the more we externalise help—the more we remove it from our own involvement and participation—the more helpless and dependent we can become as humans. So one of the issues of medicalisation is that we feel intimidated by all of the knowledge. The 1990s is called the decade of the brain—neuropsychology—huge. And yet, the more you hear about our developing brain, the more you think, “Gosh, this is beyond me to help someone who might have a brain imbalance behind their mental health problems”. So we’re afraid of being a resource to those who are struggling, and, all to quickly, send people off to external treatment. Is that the best pathway all the time?
PG: So if I hear you rightly, Jenny, you’re saying that as a person encounters some of these difficulties, we’ve created a particular pathway that they will tend to walk down in terms of seeking help. But you’re kind of asking whether there are broader things that might actually be—and I think you’ve used the word “resources” there. As I hear it, in a sense, there’s resources at an individual level, resources at a family level and resources at a community level. Is that a fair kind of thing? Talk to us a little bit about the individual resources and broader social relationships, I guess, as a set of resources.
JB: Yeah. Well, I’m going to take a step back, Paul, and just do a mental health one-on-one and simplify it from this really complex, medicalised mental health field. We’re looking at dealing with the human stress response at its very basic level.
JB: That’s the essence of understanding mental health—emotional health issues. We all have a stress response. When it becomes problematic is when our stress response, which naturally, biologically, should return to baseline after dealing with a period of challenge and adversity, in an anxious world, which we’re in, increasingly, our stress responses are not returning to baseline so readily.
So with that, as a backdrop, the pathway to improved mental health and nurture in that field is assisting people to manage stress and adversity more effectively using their own resources—self-regulation or emotion regulation; the literature—the research literature—is really clear that that is a meta factor across all diagnostic categories—the importance of improved emotion regulation. So I hope that little detour helps the audience to think about what kind of environments help people calm down themselves.
PG: So you’ve—you know, something’s happened; you’ve had a fight with your boss at work, or [Laughter] you’ve had a—an argument with your spouse, or one of your children’s done something foolish and there’s a bit of tension or whatever. You’re saying we all go through moments like those. In the normal state of events, that would happen, things would calm back down and your body would get back to normal functioning, whatever that is. But you’re saying the kind of world we live in stops us necessarily from returning to that baseline level of healthy, normal stress. Is that right?
JB: That’s correct. And because the stress of living in an anxious and broken world has been around a lot longer than just modern times, which, modernity has added its huge stresses in terms of post-Industrial Revolution. I can go down a whole track on looking at the history.
JB: But one of the things that I value from Dr Murray Bowen’s Family Systems theory is an appreciation that people are on a continuum of their capacity to manage stress, coming out of different histories of the generations of their family. So we’re not at all on the level playing field.
So one type of expectation for recovering from stress will not fit all people. And can we live in our families and our communities and in our churches, appreciating that there is a variation of people’s capacity to recover from stress, and to have grace and acceptance of that? Some people will not respond as well to particular kinds of nurture and help.
PG: Yeah, yeah.
JB: It will take longer. But everyone can do a bit better.
PG: So let’s dig further into that “nurture” idea. What are some examples of the way that nurture might take place? So what might nurture helpfully look like in a situation where someone’s struggling with some sort of mental health condition?
JB: Yes. Well, another area that I could talk a whole lot about, Paul, is the issue of outsourcing help from the family—
JB: —and just how much learning to be together in the family—extended family as well—and the resources of relationship and staying connected is so important to nurture even difficult family relationships, because that’s where we learn to regulate our own emotions. If we never get to deal with the challenge of someone saying to us in a relationship the word “No, I’m not willing to do that”, and we feel stressed—so much stress comes out of relationship—and learn from childhood, but we can learn it as adults well—learn to regulate the emotional distress of not getting our own way in relationship, then we’re going to be more resilient in managing stress going forward, in managing relationship disruption. It’s not going to do us in so quickly. Our sensitivity, like an emotional allergy, to relationship stress is going to be diminished. And that can build resilience.
I’m a big one for relationship contexts of building resilience, the nurture that comes from being in relationship, and how when we’re in relationships, we can provide the kind of nurture that doesn’t get in the way of people finding their own capacities to manage their stress reactions—that we don’t over-nurture—we don’t anxiously jump in and try to fix, which, I think, is behind one of the issues in the field as a whole—is that this anxious treating and fixing—and it happens in families, as well as in the treatment world. But if family members, friends, community members, neighbours, members of a church family can learn to tolerate somebody struggling; walk beside them with patience, respect, and grace; be a resource, be in contact, be interested, be respectful; people will do better with that kind of side-by-side nurture, rather than, “Oh goodness, they’ve had a panic attack. We must quickly send them off to a mental health professional”, rather than be able to let them talk about what’s going on in their life, what went into the panic attack, what the broader context of life and relationships for a person, sharing our own struggles without telling another person how to fix theirs—that’s the kind of side-by-side nurture that I think fear and anxiety in the realm of mental health is corroding in all parts of our community.
PG: So let me ask about that: when we find out that a family member is struggling with mental illness, particularly given the level at which our community is now starting to speak about it and the relaxing of stigma and whatever—I mean, there are real fears there, right? Because it is incredibly debilitating for some people.
PG: And particularly—I mean, I know, for some friends of mine, as they’ve experienced some of those symptoms themselves, their awareness that perhaps one of their parents and one of their grandparents had this, and they saw, perhaps, awful things have happened in their lives or difficult things have happened in their lives as a result of that. It’s not unusual that our anxieties get a big raise in the face of those things. But you’re saying that, in a sense, is it just the fact that we feel anxiety, or is the way that we respond once we feel the anxiety?
JB: Oh, that’s a really great idea, Paul—the distinguishing the experience of anxiety and the response to anxiety—not just the individual response, but the response of family members.
JB: If they can respond non-anxiously, it’s going to be a gift of nurture.
I do want to say when you think of “nurture”, you’ve got the nature/nurture debate, and I’m definitely not discrediting that there is a biological basis and vulnerability to many people’s mental health symptoms, just as there is for various physical health symptoms. However, it’s not enough of a way of explaining the growing mental health difficulties, and I would say that the way that we respond to biological vulnerabilities in our communities—in our families—can really make a difference as to whether people develop debilitating symptoms as a result of their temperament or genetics, or whether they develop more inner capacity to manage stress and manage their symptoms—with personal agency, rather than dependency on external fixes. I know I’m repeating that theme quite a bit.
The other thing is that the medical paradigm is a “cause and effect” paradigm: this pathogen causes this illness. And in the area of emotional health and well-being, that is too simplistic a paradigm. Hence the system’s idea that there are multiple contributions to people not doing well. And in a system, the way a person in a relationship responds to someone with symptoms is a really critical part of their recovery pathway.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I have a few resources to bring to your attention for your own Christian growth. The first focuses on our live events. This year, we’ve been considering the responsibilities belonging to Christian community. If you haven’t been keeping up with our events, you can find our past events online, where you can watch them, listen to them or read them.
But we’re also fast approaching our final event for the year on the topic, “Raising the next generation”. Community isn’t something that’s static; it stretches through time, as cultures pass from one generation to another. The Bible has many commands about ensuring that its truth is passed on to the next generation. But as simple as this command is, the practice of raising up children and new leaders can cause great anxiety.
At our next event, I’m very pleased that Paul Dudley, the chaplain at Shore School, and Mark Earngey, Head of Church History at Moore College, will give us some instruction about how we might work to raise the next generation in the Lord. Whether you are young or old, a parent or a friend, all of us need to be taking an interest in seeing the next generation of the church grow to be followers of Christ. So I hope that you’ll plan to join us on Wednesday October 20th for the event. You can register yourself or even your church online at ccl.moore.edu.au.
Second, as you continue thinking about your own Christian growth in this next year, I encourage you to consider the wide range of programs available from Moore Theological College. We have options for study for all stages of life and ministry—from the unaccredited PTC to Diplomas to degree-level courses. Please visit Moore’s website at moore.edu.au to look at the wide range of programs available to help you keep growing in your life and ministry as a Christian.
Now let’s get back to our program.
PG: So can we get just a little bit concrete about that. Give us an example of—you’ve described an anxious and non-anxious response in a situation where, perhaps, your child—your teenager comes home and says, you know, “I’ve been feeling really flat” and you start to talk to them. And you realise, actually, there’s been a lack of motivation and a lack of engagement with a bunch of things—where there’s a broad range here. But what might an anxious response look like? And what might a less anxious response look like?
JB: Yeah, it’s good to play out an example like that, Paul. I think one example of a really anxious response is a panic, and, “Oh, that’s terrible! And I’m going to call up my friend. I’m going to get you help straightaway and book you in to see someone to get you fixed.” That would be a very anxious response. Another anxious response is the flip side of that coin, which is a sense of denial and avoidance, and “You didn’t really say that. You’ve just had a bad day”—kind of minimising it. So it’s how to respond at a realistic level.
And I think for a person to respond non-anxiously, it’s—I’m thinking of a parent, hearing that from a child, to take some deep breaths and start by saying, “I’m just so glad that you could tell me this, and you could share with me that things are going bad. I wonder how long you’ve been feeling that way. What’s gotten in the way of you letting me know beforehand? Have you talked to anyone else about it? What do you think might be helpful right now? You’ve given me as a parent a lot to think about, and whether I’ve just been so caught up in my own stress lately that I haven’t been as connected with you as I’d like to be.” That would be an example of a non-anxious response.
And the response that I would love more parents to have is that they ask their young person if they’d like some extra support, and that can be very useful—although it’s never useful to push anybody reluctantly into receiving help. But if one member of a family—if a parent can go along and get their own help in understanding their interactions with their young person, looking for ways they can change the way they’re relating that might not be helping their young person’s development of self-regulation, emotion regulation, stress management—and the parent can make their own adjustments, that is such a gift to the struggling family member.
PG: Now, if I hear you right, Jenny, you’re saying that nurture, in a sense, involves looking after yourself, rather than the person that you’ve seen the symptoms in. At least, that’s what I think I’ve just heard you say,
JB: You could say it that way, yeah. You start with self. But if the first stop—I mean, you often hear the metaphor of, in a plane—loss of oxygen—you put your own mask on first before the child sitting with you. And it is a good metaphor—that if we respond anxiously, whatever our typical anxious response is—flight, fight, freeze, or befriend—over-friend, over-function is a stress response—probably the most common when a family member is struggling. So here, managing our own reactions, starting with self, is a real gift to nurturing the family.
PG: Yeah, wow! You’ve just talked a little bit about starting with self, and I know that you’ve used words like “agency” or letting the person have an ability to soothe themselves—calm themselves—there’s a whole range of things like that. How do you start to fit that into your Christian framework? So I know that you’re Christian, and we have these ideals of self-sacrifice and laying down our life for others, and doing things for other people. And yet, you’re saying that, in many ways, the place to start is with me. Have you thought much about—sorry; that’s not a fair question. I know you have. But [Laughter], like, how do you hold those elements together in terms of thinking Christianly about these things?
JB: Yeah, it’s such an important question, Paul. And I’m asked it all the time. And in writing a book, like Growing Yourself Up, I was very concerned about what that title implies—the idea that we can rescue ourselves when, as a Christian, I just know the limits of rescuing self—we just can’t really make much progress.
And I’m often asked, isn’t this focus on working on our own reactions a selfish focus? And it could be—indeed, it could be—if it was just with a motivation to “I want to improve my own health, so I’m more robust, and that’s all I care about, even though that’s not a bad thing to aim for”. But if it doesn’t include—and this is why I put the important second part of the book title—“How am I serving others? How am I loving others?”—which is, “How can I bring my best to my relationships?”, it is an act of service to manage self more responsibly.
But I do like, in Bowen Family Systems Theory in Christian Ministry, the compilation book that I’ve been involved in, I’ve written in the introduction the notion that Jerry Bridges talks about of dependent responsibility, which I do like. It’s just recognising our dependency on our Father God and that we’re not doing life in our own strength and we shouldn’t; that leads to self-righteousness or despair. But we have a responsibility to take the situation that we’ve been granted in life and manage it with our own resources—be good stewards of our caretaking in our lives and in our relationships. That’s how I’ve played it out over time.
PG: That’s really helpful, Jenny. As you spoken, it just reminds me of those little verses at the start of Galatians chapter 6, where we’re encouraged to carry each other’s burdens (v. 2), and at the same time, there’s a responsibility to carry our own burdens (v. 5). We’re not to expect other people to solve or sort our problems out.
PG: But we are encouraged to look outside of ourselves to work out how to love and care for those around about us. But it’s interesting, as you’ve spoken, you spoke about resources before: there are resources that we have as Christians and as people living in families and communities. What are those resources?
JB: Well, they’re certainly living in family and community and being part of the family of God, the body of Christ. There are wonderful resources. God, he’s a relational, Trinitarian God: he knows we need each other to do well and to flourish. You add anxiety to those communities and they get in the way of flourishing.
JB: But there is good research out there—you would be aware of it, I’m sure, Paul, and many listeners—that the mental health of people who are part of a supportive church community is better. [Laughter] It does have benefits, if it is a supportive community. Anxious communities, whether they’re in church or in society, have a whole set of snowballing ramifications that make it harder for people to flourish. So those patterns creep into our churches. But we have an offering of deep personal nurture in Christ beyond anything that professionals and secular psychology or our own wisdom in our own strength can offer.
PG: So at that level, for a Christian who’s thinking about these things, to see the medical thing is, perhaps, an element or one resource that can help provide some information and awareness and useful things. But realising that that’s only one element of a person being a person.
PG: And so, thinking about how to healthily relate to that person with—that has been one resource in a broader a set of resources.
JB: Yes, I think that’s well-said, Paul. What I say when I’m training mental health professionals, or in supervision, I say, “Is the way you’re working with this person”—whether it’s a psychiatrist writing a script, or a psychologist or a social worker or a counsellor having a talk therapy session, I’m asking people to consider the effect of their way of working. Is it allowing a person to solve their own problems—to think through their own issues—to make their own thoughtful decisions—and it’s therefore promoting growth in responsibility? So yes, there is a role, and there are some really excellent mental health professionals out there who are committed to being a resource for people’s growth. Many.
JB: So it has its place. I’m not suggesting that we close up all of the mental health treatment programmes. That would be a disaster! [Laughter] But I am inviting us to rethink the kind of help that is on offer, and the community as a whole, how quick we are to just rush people off to treatment and not stay alongside them along the way.
So I always asked clinically—if a Christian comes to see me for some counselling, always asking, “Who have you asked to be praying for you right now?” So they’re mobilising the resources of their natural community, rather than just diverting them to a fairly artificial relationship that they’re paying for, that’s only one hour. It shouldn’t be the main nurturing resource. And I’m also concerned about every family member having a different counsellor or psychologist, rather than seeing the family as an interconnected system.
PG: So you’ve mentioned before, Jenny, you said even staying in the family—even if it’s uncomfortable—can be good for you. For those of us who experience our families as difficult or, you know, the words like “toxic” and things get thrown around—
PG: —fairly readily sometimes.
JB: Yes, they do! [Laughter]
PG: What does it mean to stay as part of a family where it’s not always straightforward or comfortable or easy? Any reflections on that?
JB: Yes, and I think it applies in our churches as well—in terms of practising increasing our capacity to be in relationships where there’s anxiety. We all know about exposure therapy for phobias, like flying or spiders: you gradually increase your exposure. If you avoid forever, your phobia increases. So can you see the parallel with relationships?
PG: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it?
JB: So it’s about gradually learning to observe self and think, “What can I change about my reactions in this relationship? How can I take my focus away from just blaming another or trying to fix another, and notice the ways I respond? How can I think about the challenges I present for the person who I find difficult, but how am I being difficult to them?” The—that’s the work of building more resilience in relationships—
JB: —gradually, over time.
PG: They’re pretty scary questions to ask, Jenny!
JB: Yes, I know! [Laughter]
JB: They are. They’re uncomfortable.
PG: —“What difficulties do I present to another person in relating to them? What does it mean?” And I think, for me, as I’ve engaged with some of those ideas and things, working out what it means for me to believe and desire certain things, and have other people that I love who believe and desire slightly different things from me, and what does it mean to stay in healthy relationship there? It’s not something that happens overnight, is it?
JB: It’s not. It is a workout, for sure, Paul. And I think it takes courage. It takes tolerating the inevitable discomfort and anxiety that comes with that. But not all anxiety is bad anxiety: anxiety of growth—of taking risks outside of our comfort zone—is a good kind of anxiety.
PG: Yeah. Right.
JB: And appreciating that learning how to manage ourselves differently in our families to the ones we grew up in, that’s not going to happen overnight. That’s a slow and steady journey. And I really respect the courage and persistence and patience it takes for people to work on this.
But it has some rewards. That is why I’ve been working on it for many, many years! [Laughter] in my own life. I see the benefits, not just for myself and for the people I care about.
PG: Yeah, yeah. I mean, from the point of personal testimony, I—working on some of these things, I have a history of anxiety. And I know that wrestling with some of these ideas, God hasn’t made me anxiety-free, unfortunately, although sometimes I wish that was the case. But I do notice that my experience in response to anxiety now is very different to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s some of these skills about understanding yourself and others and emotional regulation and those kinds of things.
It’s just tricky, isn’t it, ’cause it does take time and it’s effort and it’s slow. And particularly the desperation of being in that space makes you feel like you want it fixed instantly. But there is a truth that very rarely is the mental health space fixed quickly. Is that fair?
JB: I think it is fair. I think you can get some symptom relief fairly quickly. But is that going to sustain and truly nurture resilience to/because of just the next stressor that’s around the corner?
PG: Yeah, right.
JB: And I think symptom relief is great [Laughter]—if it’s constructive symptom relief. I mean, we’ve got so many symptom-relieving activities that are quite destructive. They do quickly relieve symptoms. Many addictions—
JB: —impulsive things—social media, porn, alcohol, shopping. The list goes on and on. They are quick fixes to feeling anxious, and they’re disruptive.
There are some constructive symptom relief exercises: mindfulness, good breathing techniques, medication for some.
JB: Doesn’t help everyone. Symptom relief, if it provides a platform for doing the patient, long-haul work of increased capacity to manage stress and be connected in relationships and deal with differences with other people. If symptom relief provides that platform, that’s a great partnership.
PG: Yeah, wow. Now, Jenny, if listeners are interested in exploring these ideas a little more, you’re doing these three lectures, as I understand—the 5th, the 6th and the 7th of October.
PG: 7:30pm in the evening. You can register for those for free through the New College website. So I’ll give that to people. It’s newcollege.unsw.edu.au. And you can register and log on and listen. Just for people who are logging on: three talks, a brief synopsis of the key things you’re trying to cover in that space?
JB: Well, the first lecture is “Nurture of the individual”: so just looking at understanding the mental health crisis for individuals. Then second lecture, probably the area that I’ve spent the most time in in my professional life is looking at nurture in the family—particularly looking at parents and children of any age. And you’re probably aware, Paul, that I’ll be talking about my own research in that lecture and the development of a parent support program— Parent Hope Project. And the third lecture, looking at nurture in community and, in particular, in the church. So we’ve covered a lot of little snippets of each [of the] three lectures today.
PG: Yep, but I mean, it’s such a deep and rich area to think about, and that would be just a wonderful resource for anybody who wants to explore any of these ideas further and chew on them and start to push further in that pathway.
JB: Yes. Yeah.
JB: It’s been a gift, to prepare for these lectures. It’s taken me deeper into looking at broader literature and really asking a lot of hard questions about this particular shadow pandemic we’re in—
PG: Yeah, right.
JB: —in the mental health—
PG: Yeah, yeah.
PG: Jenny, can I say thank you so much for your time today? It’s been a real joy to sit and listen and share in some of your wisdom, and reflect and think on what you’ve been saying. And we’ll be praying that God works deeply through these lectures, but also through your ongoing work and ministry with people. But thank you very much for your time.
JB: Yeah, my pleasure!
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