Youth Mental Health & Spirituality
By Putri Klismianti, NYAC member and Robin Simpson, Mental Health Public Speaker & NYAC member
Robin Simpson is a 24-year-old mental health advocate. Aspiring to share her story of having lived with depression and anxiety, she serves as a Mental Health Public Speaker with T.A.M.I Durham and an active member of the National Youth Advisory Committee of CAMH. She works in the education sector, grows up in a Christian household, and a blogger via her website www.purpleinkonline.com
I recently asked Robin the following questions about her take on mental health and spirituality.
Klismianti: How has your religious community historically seen mental health and illness?
Simpson: Historically, my religious community has viewed mental health and illness negatively. Growing up as a kid I was always taught through what I have seen and heard within congregations that mental illness is basically demonic. However, fortunately through awareness and education I have seen a slight shift in the Christian denomination [Apostolic] that I was raised in.
Klismianti: How does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental health illness?
Simpson: Faith is more of a personal thing. Growing up, I always kind of viewed Christianity as a public system. I find that now it has become a little bit more personal; I have more of a personal relationship with God rather than just doing what I was told, or what I’ve read, or what other people have told what I’m supposed to be doing. Just being able to bring that onto a personal level and truly just figuring what faith meant to me really helped me understand a bit more about mental health and mental illness – that it’s not demonic, and God still loves you despite your illnesses. For me, faith has just positively shaped the way I view mental health because trough faith I am able to see the positive characteristics of Christ.
Klismianti: Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that it is in light of how your community responds to suicide?
Simpson: I have to agree with research that religious faith protects against suicide. A lot of people are always [telling me] like, “Why do you believe in anything? Why are you following a religion?” To me, I solely just cannot rely on myself. I personally can’t see [myself] as a source of my strength because I can fail so many times. However, through Christianity, I believe that God never fails. I find putting my worries and problems into that; and having that faith, knowing that [it] never ends is what protects me. I can speak from a personal experience; there [has] been times when I’ve been really considering suicide. I’ve had to reach out to my religion and do different things like praying and realizing what the truth is. Sometimes when people are going through suicidal thoughts, [lingering through their minds are] a lot of negativity and it’s a lot of things in your mind for stuff that isn’t true. So for me, just being able to go back into my religion and seeing what God has in store for me has really helped me [for] when I’ve been feeling suicidal. I know I’m not the only one; there’s probably many, even if you’re not a Christian and you’re following a different type of religion… that religion has protected [you] against suicide.
Klismianti: How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?
Simpson: I think [there] really is a fine line between being encouraging but also using that opportunity to not promote awareness, but you just kind of feed that awareness and education. Suicide is always a very touchy subject and emotional subject, so I agree that it’s just a fine line of trying to discourage somebody, but also not pushing that discouragement on a family member that has gone through that grief. So I think it’s a fine line, but most of all what is important is support. Support can look different in many different ways, so I think it’s up to the community and religious leaders to figure out what that support is going to look like.
Klismianti: What is the difference between spirituality and mindfulness or meditation? Are gratitude and forgiveness within a religious or spiritual context different from the same virtues within a secular context?
Simpson: I’m going to answer this personally. I don’t think there is a difference between spirituality, mindfulness and meditation because with all [of] those three [topics], it depends on what you’re focusing on, right? Spirituality can be focusing on God. You can be mindful and focusing on God. You can be meditating and still be focusing on God. I don’t think there is a difference between all [of] them. They want to obtain the same thing. However, through different therapy sessions I’ve had, I’ve had to make it known that I prefer to practice mindfulness from a Christian perspective. Just because sometimes, [you are] relying on [yourself] as being the strength and being able to just do everything – everything kind of comes from you and personally that goes against my beliefs. So I just switch that mindfulness to have a different approach. I don’t think there’s a difference between the three [topics] because [they are] all obtaining the same thing. I don’t think gratitude and forgiveness within a religious or spiritual context are different. Sometimes it can be, overall, I don’t think it’s pretty different.
Klismianti: How could we, as youth, apply spirituality and mental health beliefs in today’s world?
Robin: I think that’s a very tricky question because I find spirituality isn’t as encouraged anymore. Which as research has been saying: it’s been really helpful for a lot of people. As youth, it would be important to kind of keep that alive. Whether that’s starting up different spirituality groups in your school or in your community.
There’s a lot of different ways to apply spirituality. We live in a very technology-advanced world. There [are] apps, (laughs) internet, Google. We can find a bunch of different things on spirituality and how to make that comfortable for you; just to make it your own. Meditation can look so different. Mindfulness can look so different. As youth, it’s important to know, try and keep spirituality going, whether it’s in your school or community. Take the time out to figure out, “Hey, how do I want to approach this? What works for me? Will this work for somebody else?” Just having an open ear and being willing to learn about different things will be really beneficial.
Klismianti: Is there anything else that you’d like to add in terms of mental health and illness?
Simpson: Yes I would. It’s a quote that I’ve always end with when I’m done doing a presentation and speeches, and it simply goes: “Don’t let your culture, peers, mental health problem or any disability negatively define who you are destined to be.” The reason why I say that is because there’s a lot of different things that may go on within [one’s] personal life. We think because of those events, there’s not going to be anything greater in our life. Don’t let any type of event, what your religious community might be doing, your culture, your peers… don’t let that define who you’re supposed to be in a negative way. If you kind of have that approach and outlook on life, not only will it benefit you positively with your mental health, but it makes life so…. much more better.
This is part of a series dedicated to CAMH Communications Specialist Joan Chang, a talented and passionate communicator who appreciated the value of spiritual care. Joan developed a story framework to shine the spotlight on spiritual care at CAMH, and completed some interviews for the series. She died suddenly in June, 2015. A tribute to Joan is included on the CAMH Foundation website. Other articles in this series: