by Pastor Serenity Miller
Friends, it’s a tough time of year. People are struggling. Whether you believe seasonal depression is real or not, whether you think mental illness is “all in your head” or not, the reality is it’s a tough time of year, and people are struggling. I am experiencing it. I talk with people every day who are experiencing it. Someone I know took their own life this week. Someone else I know made an attempt to do so a couple of weeks back.
Our community of Brookings is insulated from a lot of the nation’s troubles, but we’re not immune to mental illness—and I want you to know it’s okay to say we’re not okay. Please, let’s start saying this out loud together, before it’s too late again.
Studies show 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime. That’s 25 percent, one full quarter of the population. The numbers have drawn considerable concern in recent years.
But the “1 in 4” statistic also reveals something uniquely liberating, for those of us who’ve carried these heavy burdens in secret: these are not unusual issues we’re talking about. You are not alone. We are not alone. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” With so many of us impacted, it’s time to normalize the conversation. Mental health is a community matter. Let’s face it as a community.
A few years back, I felt God really pressing on me to start opening up about my struggles with depression. I didn’t want to. Having come to faith from a dark and stormy past, I knew what other people’s stories had meant to me, but I still feared misperceptions and ignorance and awkwardness. I was tempted to avoid, isolate, minimize, and not talk about depression.
That’s what depression does, you see. It’s the lie that we’re alone, that it doesn’t matter, that no one cares, that no one will understand.
Truthfully, Brookings has come a long way in terms of mental health awareness in recent years, but there’s still a lot of stigma out there. It doesn’t have to be that way. Every single one of us has the influence to start changing the conversation around mental health. In conjunction with professional counseling and years of involvement in Brookings recovery groups, the conviction I felt in my heart said, “Someone has to go first.”
In January of this year, with much prayer, research, pastoral support, and discussions with community organizations like Brookings Empowerment Project, a care group began meeting at GracePoint. The group is called Darkness Into Light, and our premise is simple: “Struggles with depression, anxiety, alcohol/addiction, or trauma don’t have to isolate us from community in Christ. In fact, God can use your story to light the way for someone else!”
That’s a core conviction behind the name and the concept of Darkness Into Light: finding meaning in the journey as we point one another toward hope in Jesus Christ.
This September, one group member took the mission to heart and stepped up to become a co-leader. At the time she joined the group, Allison says, “I was facing the darkest, stormiest season of my life. I was running on empty—I couldn’t do it alone anymore.” Now, as a regular attendee since January, Allison says, “I found love, truth, wisdom and hope in our weekly discussions. In that safe space, I experienced growth and healing through the life-giving encouragement, love and light that was poured into my heart.”
“I’m so excited and blessed to have the opportunity to co-lead the group this time around—to encourage and inspire other women, to dive into God’s Word, finding hope, comfort, love, and purpose. We’re not meant to do life alone; we are stronger together.”
And listen, friends—no matter how many of us are meeting on any given Thursday, every one of us knows how hard it is to come in and sit down for the first time. We know that simply walking in the door is a confession of a struggle. We know showing up might mean being seen for something you’ve been hiding for years. And hey, we’re in that room, too. We all had to walk through the door for the first time. You are not alone. There is value in what you’re going through. It matters to me. It matters to a lot of us. Just ask us.
Darkness Into Light is intended to be offered year-round, with the hope that new leaders will continue to emerge, new groups will form, and a variety of materials may be used. Currently, the group meets on Thursdays from 6:30-8pm at GracePoint (women’s group in Rm 220; men’s group in Rm 200). The door is open to anyone in the community who has experienced struggles with depression, anxiety, alcohol/addiction, or trauma—and to those who can speak to victories in these areas, too. For more information, please contact Pastor Serenity Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.