Jeff Haanen

Articles Tagged with

mental health

""/
Spiritual FormationWork

Anxious America (Part 2)

How to Respond Faithfully to the Mental Health Crisis

Here’s what I’m learning from the best pastors, business leaders, psychiatrists, counselors, and spiritual directors addressing America’s mental health crisis. 

Notice and address anxiety first in yourself. 

“You have to name it to tame it,” says Steve Cuss, author of Managing Leadership Anxiety and Australian-born pastor, speaker and writer. Cuss’ journey as a hospital chaplain sparked an enduring interest in helping people notice and address anxiety. He helps people reduce anxiety by noticing how it shows up in everyday life and controlling “reactivity,” or the impulse to overreact when our bodies are in a fight-or-flight state. 

“Anxiety shrinks the power of the gospel because it presents a false gospel – one of self-reliance rather than reliance on God,” says Cuss. Anxiety may be universal, but he says learning to notice it in yourself and others is a first step toward becoming calm, aware, and present

A growing number of pastors have latched onto the concept of “non-anxious presence” to combat anxiety. Christian leaders like John Mark Comer, Mark Sayers, and Todd Bolsinger have all latched onto the idea in sermons and books. The term was popularized amongst clergy by the late Edwin Friedmann, a rabbi, family systems theorist, and author of books like A Failure of Nerve and Generation to Generation.  

One pathway to non-anxious presence is what the late Murray Bowen, the founder of family systems theory and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, called the “well-differentiated self.” The key is to strike the right balance between independence and connectedness, and thereby avoid becoming enmeshed with others or, conversely, emotionally cut off. 

The well-differentiated leader, according to Friedman, is “someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence.” The first step in addressing anxiety is found in taking responsibility for your own personal presence, and diffusing anxiety both internally as well as between others. 

Be the first to bring up anxiety and mental health at church.

John Swinton, a Scottish theologian and minister specializing in faith and disability, believes the church offers a unique message from the broader culture. There’s a difference, he says, between inclusion and belonging. Inclusion, says Swinton, is just a technical requirement to not exclude, sustained by law and policy. “But to belong,” Swinton says, “you have to be missed. To belong you have to have a space where, when you’re not there, people long for you.” Churches offer this sense of family and connectedness that is often missed in secular culture. 

As stigma about sharing mental health challenges decreases, especially among Millennials and Gen Z, the number of church-focused resources on faith and mental health increases. Mental Health Grace Alliance, Fresh Hope for Mental Health, Pathways to Promise, and Kay Warren’s The Gospel and Mental Health all offer churches practical congregational-focused resources.  Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries offers a complete course for churches on topics such as mental health, stigma, recovery, companionship, caregiving, self-care and reflection. 

“Everyone is struggling with anxiety,” says Trisha Taylor, a psychotherapist and co-author of The Leader’s Journey: Answering the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation.  Taylor and her ministry partner Jim Herrington help congregational leaders increase their emotional intelligence and navigate conflict. She also encourages all Christians to normalize conversations about mental health. 

“First, let’s just talk about it. Second, we need to make a point to understand how emotions work. We need to learn from them rather than try to eliminate our negative emotions,” says Taylor, who believes that chronic anxiety is one major factor for why pastors leave their jobs. “Finally, anxiety is physiological. It’s our body’s natural response to stress. We often need to start by getting help for our bodies.”
For every 400 adults sitting in a congregation, on average 112 of them are struggling with chronic anxiety and 88 have symptoms of depressive disorder. For churches wondering how to restore community after the pandemic, here’s a place to start.

This article is the second of a three part series. The full essay was published by The Reformed Journal in November 2022. Next week I’ll publish the final article in the series.

""/
Spiritual FormationWork

Anxious America (Part 1)

How to Respond Faithfully to the Mental Health Crisis

I shut my laptop abruptly late one afternoon. I realized I was holding my breath. My neck and scalp were tingling and my shoulders were tight. I put my hand over my chest and felt my heart racing. It was just an unpleasant email, I thought. Why am I feeling like this? I stood up from the kitchen table, only to feel dizzy. I sat down again, just to breathe. 

It was early 2022. For months I had been experiencing increased anxiety, often making work and family responsibilities hard to manage. Tensions in my extended family and at work, mixed with intense cultural polarization, caused me to honestly ask myself two questions: Is there something wrong with me? And am I the only one feeling like this?

The Real Pandemic

After some digging, I came to learn that anxiety and challenges around mental health may be one of the most universal human experiences of the past several years. The CDC reported in July 2022 that 28.8% of Americans report symptoms of anxiety disorder; for 18-29 year olds, it’s a staggering 42.9%. In December 2021, the Surgeon General warned of a growing youth mental health crisis.  And today, nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 18 are medicated for anxiety, depression or ADHD. No wonder President Biden called for national response to the growing mental health crisis in his 2022 State of the Union Address.  

The pandemic didn’t create a global mental health crisis, but it did make it worse. “I believe we saw the exacerbation of mental health issues during the pandemic,” says Marvin Williams, 57, the lead pastor of Trinity Church in Lansing, Michigan. Williams, a Black pastor in a predominately White church (“which carries its own anxieties,” he says), believes the convergence of the pandemic, political division, and growing issues around race created a perfect storm. “Those three things coming together at the same time revealed even more of what was under the hood,” says Williams. Globally, the World Health Organization found the pandemic sparked a 25% increase in anxiety and depression. 

Chronic anxiety is increasingly commonplace and even severe mental health issues have been on the rise for years. In the last two decades, suicide rates have risen 30%, and in 2020, 1.2 million Americans attempted suicide. Princeton researchers Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that “deaths of despair” – death by drug overdose, suicide, and alcoholism – have risen sharply, particularly for working class communities.  For the first time in the modern era, even before the pandemic, life expectancy rates started to decline. 

So what’s causing the growing mental health crisis? Many point to a loneliness epidemic. NPR reports 60% of Americans are lonely, which the pandemic perpetuated when workplaces and schools were shut down, impacting a generation of young people.  The inability to gather during COVID led to fewer in-person relationships, sapping people’s resilience to stress.

Many also point to heightened social tensions in the past two years. “In our culture we’ve seen increasing political and social polarization, increasing awareness of sexual assault and racial violence and inequity, and we’ve had two very polarizing election cycles,” says Warren Kinghorn, a psychiatrist and co-director of the Theology, Medicine and Culture program at Duke University. “Our experience has been that mental health clinicians are in high demand, especially since the pandemic.” Kinghorn notes colleges and universities are reporting a significant increase in demand for student mental health services.

Others point to another plague for young people: the rise of social media and smartphones. Not only has social media led to growing political division due to an inability to effectively communicate, but studies have also found that overuse of smartphones actually warps teenage brains, causing anxiety, depression, impulse control problems, and sleep disorders. Dr. Jean Twenge, author of the best-selling book iGen, has found that this generation of teens, when compared to teens in the 1970s, are less likely to go out with peers, more likely to say they feel left out or lonely, and more likely to report they don’t enjoy life.  These rates went up markedly since 2012 – the first year smartphones hit the market. 

It may still be that something is wrong with me. But if the statistics are right, I’m certainly not alone. 

Pioneers in Compassion

The church has been responding to mental health issues since its inception. The ancient Romans thought mental illness was caused by divine punishment, evil spirits, or an imbalance of the humors. Treatments ranged from philosophizing to bloodletting. Yet, noting Jesus’ compassion for the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39), early church fathers innovated in devising new methods of care for the poor and mentally ill. 

In 370, St. Basil opened a ptochotropeion, a hospital intended to serve the poor, indigent, and ill. In contrast to Greek hospitals of the time, who would only serve those who could pay, Basil offered care to all, founding what historians believe to be the first public hospital. 

The Medieval Church continued to innovate ways to serve the mentally ill. The 7th-Century Irish Saint Dymphna inspired the town of Geel, located in modern Belgium, to pioneer de-institutionalized care for the mentally ill, where patients would interact with townspeople during daytime and sleep at the hospital at night. 

A century later, Father Joan Gilabert Jofré (1350-1417) was on his way to the Cathedral in Valencia for the first Sunday in Lent.  When he saw two men brutally attacking a “madman,” he rescued the victim, took him back to his convent, and preached a sermon about establishing an institution to care for the mentally ill. Afterwards, eleven patrons gathered to found arguably the first psychiatric care institution in Europe.

Indeed, anxiety and depression have been present throughout church history, including the 20th century. We’ve always had reasons to worry, whether they be the anthrax scare, 9/11, school shootings or the cultural turmoil of previous generations, like the Vietnam War or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mental Health Awareness Month wasn’t founded in 2020; it has been observed in the US every May since 1949. “Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you” is a comfort and mandate for all generations (1 Peter 5:7). 

And yet, something does seem different today. 

Many in the modern world experience unprecedented levels of wealth and physical comfort, but report being deeply unhappy – actually at the highest rate in the last 70 years, reports Gallup. The speed of technology and rapid cultural fragmentation are undoubtedly influencing us, especially young people. And the lines between mental illness and everyday experience seem to be blurring for millions. 

Can the church offer unique insight today for those battling anxiety, depression, and mental illness?

This article is the first section of a full essay to be published at The Reformed Journal in November 2022. Next week I’ll publish the second of the three part series.

""/
BusinessEconomyWork

Who am I? The Identity of an Entrepreneur

What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

I ask the question because in the past 6 months, I’ve started to notice some disconcerting cracks in my own character. In 2018, as an entrepreneur, father and husband, externally, things have thrived. Internally, however, I’ve struggled.

I’ve noticed my patience has gotten shorter with my kids. I haven’t been the kind of husband I want to be. My ability to deal with stress almost seems to be diminishing. I’ve felt spiritually fragile. As I’ve tried to understand what’s happening inside of me, I’ve come back to the question: what is really motivating me to build, grow, and achieve? What is driving me?

In 2013, I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work. It was exhilarating. We pitched the idea to a handful of donors. They started giving and we took off. Beginning in January of 2014, we hosted over 600 people at 6 events over 7 months. More donors came, and we eventually hired a communications director and event director. In 2016, we launched the 5280 Fellowship, our flagship program for emerging leaders in theology, work and culture. Recently, we launched a new online learning platform called Scatter. For a few years, everything looked up and to the right.

Last year, however, I hit a wall. I was doing too much. I was connected in too many spots. I felt exhausted. The this-is-cool thing wore off, and I thought of tossing in the towel. So we restructured. I gave more responsibility to my COO who now leads our internal operations. We built more systems to stabilize and bring about trust and accountability. 

Yet even with the changes, I’ve realized that something inside of me is driving me – something that I wish would quiet down. There’s a good desire in me to build, create, make a positive impact on my city. But there’s also something that’s unhealthy that is bubbling under the surface.

What is it? What really motivates me? What really motivates us as entrepreneurs?

At a recent gathering of the Entrepreneur’s Forum at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I asked that question to a room of 60 founders and early stage entrepreneurs. Stories emerged.

One founder in Denver built a recruiting company. He told me many of the CEOs he works for come home to their families with significant stress, principally because of staffing issues. In a tight labor market like Denver, entry-level employees are tough to come by – and tough to keep. Sometimes they don’t show up, can’t get to work, or they have some kind of personal issue. And at the end of the day, the company can’t fulfill orders due to personnel problems, and it’s the CEOs responsibility.  

And so one day I asked my friend, “Why don’t they simply invest more in their frontline employees? Wouldn’t this help to retain their labor and help fix their biggest headache?”

My friend shared with me over coffee that every single CEO he works with says they would invest 10% of their salary if they could solve their staffing issues. But when the time comes, the vast majority don’t. Why?

“Because when you start making over $1 million dollars a year,” my friend at the recruiting company posited, “and you drop below that mark, you feel like you’re failing. And so they protect their salary even if it’s causing them and those around them pain.”

They feel like they’re failing. Though I couldn’t identify with making over $1 million a year, I could identify with the feeling of failure – no matter what had happened in my organization last month.  Oddly enough, after I publish a big article or pull off a big event for business leaders, this is precisely the time in the year when I feel like I’m failing the most.

After the big deal is done, so many of founders I know feel like they’re failing deeply. Why is this? Where does the feeling of failure come from?

What is really driving so much of our entrepreneurship? I believe that its fundamentally about our identity. Too many of us are trying to prove our worth in a world that seems empty of it.

At one of the early small groups at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum, over lunch we shared about how we see ourselves. One day, the topic of our fathers came up. This particular group happened to be mostly men, and a full three quarters of us realized we had really significant issues with our dads and significant pain we’ve taken into adulthood. We realized in our conversation that there’s a part of us that’s longing to be recognized. Because it wasn’t there early in life, there’s something inside of us that keeps driving us. To go, create, achieve. To prove our worth. We simply want somebody to notice out of an internal voice that incessantly says, “It’s never enough.”

No success is ever enough to fill the void within.

Culturally, I believe we’re in a weird spot with entrepreneurship. We have a hero complex we’ve built around entrepreneurs. They’re the formable founders who fuel the economy, suffer the pains of a startup, and finally “make it” and either sell or IPO. They sacrifice their bodies, their relationships, their minds, their time – everything – for the sake of their startup.  

Whenever I hear those stories, I must confess, they sound like a savior story. Both the founder – and their fans – are really longing for salvation. 

I’ve come to believe that Christianity can offer all entrepreneurs – including myself – the only, final healthy motive for building a business. That foundation is this: in Christ, your identity is already spoken for. It cannot change. It is never at risk. Your success or your failures can’t touch it.

Recently a video of 10-year-old Ivey Zezulka made its way around the internet. It was of a girl who just realized she was going to be adopted. Her adoptive parents gave her a package. When she opened the package, she read a picture frame and said, “I’m going to be adopted?” And when she said this she covered her mouth and began to cry. And so did I.

Why? Because not only do kids in the foster system struggle with deep, internal narratives of who will really accept me – but I do, too. When I am completely exposed and internally sense that I’m a failure who will never really amount to much, where do I turn?

This is the critical difference that Christianity can offer entrepreneurs that no other religion or worldview can offer.

Jesus says to entrepreneurs, “You are mine. All the work has been done through my death and resurrection. You can add nothing to it and take nothing from it. Now be free. To work. To create. To build a business. To fail. No matter what, you no longer need to prove yourself. You are now a part of the family. Your identity is spoken for. You are mine. You are home.”

The freedom for the faith-motivated entrepreneur is that in Christ, all the work is finally finished. Our work, then, is simply to listen, obey, and to tend the vine given to us. And when it grows, to marvel at the handiwork of the Gardener.

This post first appeared on Faith Driven Entrepreneur and was based on a talk I gave at DIFW’s Entrepreneur’s Forum.  

Image credit: Inc