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World News

Archbishop of Canterbury : Talking about my mental health transforms me from 'empty to grumpy'

by Donna Birrell

The Archbishop of Canterbury says meeting and sharing with a small group every month benefits his mental health. Speaking via video link to the Church of Ireland’s MindMatters conference on mental health, Most Rev Justin Welby said :

“I know I can say anything in the safety and support of that group. I can say that I’m absolutely at the end of my tether, and I don’t know what to do about such-and-such a problem. And almost as soon as I’ve said it, it doesn’t seem quite as bad. We really trust each other. That sort of community is so, so important.”

The Archbishop recalled how his daughter had helped him during one particularly difficult time :

“A few years ago, I realised I was feeling different. I had experienced bouts of what I might now recognise as depression before. I had had some counselling around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because I used to work frequently in conflict zones. And sometimes I felt absolutely awful, even though everything was, objectively, fine. But these feelings always seemed to pass, and I did not feel the need to talk to anybody or do anything about it. This, though, was different. I felt utterly hopeless.

"It was my daughter who helped me – she has been incredibly open about her own experiences with mental health and her experiences of depression and suicidal ideation. And she helped me to see that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and getting help was the right thing to do. So, I began taking antidepressants – which I still take – and talking to someone. It restores me from total emptiness to mere grumpiness – which is my normal state of being. I am, in Winne the Pooh terms, naturally an Eeyore. I was never going to be a Tigger, but my medication means I can happily Eeyore around.”

Archbishop Welby added :

“Often the church has moralised mental health issues and stigmatised those who are suffering, rather than offering them the gentle compassion and understanding that Christ offers them.”

A 2022 study of mental health disorders in the Republic of Ireland found that 42.5 per cent of people met the criteria for a mental health disorder. 11.1 per cent had a lifetime history of attempted suicide.

Archbishop Welby, who is currently in Jerusalem offering pastoral support to Anglicans and those affected by the Israel Gaza conflict, said there is still a stigma around mental health :

“It’s gotten better, there’s no doubt about that, but it still exists. We start with our willingness to talk about it, to share our experiences. Transparency and openness help people learn that mental health problems are an illness, not a sin. It’s not contagious. You can’t get it when you shake hands and share the peace on Sundays.

"If you look at the Psalms, we see that anguish and hopelessness has always been part of the human condition, and one we can take to God.”

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