Radio Show

Ryan Casey Waller on the Importance of Discussing Mental Health in the Church


Episcopal pastor, psychotherapist, and lawyer Ryan Casey Waller discusses his new book, ”Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don’t Want to Talk About.”

Fr. Stu asks why Ryan believes it is important to discuss mental health in the Church, “It’s a really important conversation to have both in the wider culture, but specifically in the Church because mental health and issues of mental illness have been stigmatized… and it’s been particularly stigmatized in the Church,” Ryan says “It’s not just the Christian community, but faith communities in general haven’t done a fantastic job of welcoming this discussion and equipping those who are in their communities with the resources that they need to find the help and the healing that they need. So, in my work in a pastoral setting, I discovered that there was great resistance to going to see a therapist or to availing oneself to perhaps psychotropic medication if that were appropriate. There was this sense that if somebody had a problem that they deemed ‘bad enough’ and they couldn’t solve it through spiritual means, it meant that there was some sort of failure of faith.” Ryan explains that he wrote this book in order to bridge the gap between faith and mental health.

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Ryan reflects on why we tend to shy away from discussing mental health with loved ones. “It’s a hard conversation,” he says. “Not only for the stigma that’s built up because we view these things as sort of static conditions. So if someone raises their hand and says, ‘Look, I’m depressed or I drink too much’ they think they’re going to be labeled and put in a category. But that’s not true. That’s an outdated understanding of what it means to have mental health. So I ask people to think about mental health as on a continuum in the same way that we would think about our physical health. On the far right end, we are well, and on the far left end, we are ill. The reality is you’re somewhere on the spectrum at all times in your life, Sometimes you’re more healthy, and at other times you’re closer to being ill and you move back and forth based on many, many factors. Mental health is the same way. And the reality is based on psychosocial, physiological, and spiritual factors, we move back and forth at different times in our life.”

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“In the book, I didn’t want to talk about these issues just from the perspective of a pastor. I’m a mental health professional, but I very much identify as a co-sufferer. I have battled depression and anxiety my entire life. It was undiagnosed and untreated until my early 30s. There have been times in my life where I’ve abused alcohol … I was experiencing extreme burnout, suffering from a depression and generalized anxiety disorder and I wasn’t taking care of it. I was, I was just telling myself ‘you gotta keep going’ and I got really unhealthy… So I tell my own story and I say,  ‘Look, I understand these issues. Not just from a textbook perspective, but as one who has felt this pain continues to feel this pain, and has to navigate treating this pain on a daily basis.’”