Pressing the "Reset" on Mental Health

October 10, 2014 by Brett Ullman


Popular speaker and author Brett Ullman is no stranger to emotional and mental health issues. His newest book, Reset, is a collection of stories from individuals who have found hope, redemption, and healing in their journeys through mental and physical health issues, including Ullman’s own experience of breakdown. Today, he joins us on the blog to discuss Reset, mental health, and the Church.

WAP: Emotional pain and mental health issues are topics you have often focused on. What first drew you to these topics? Has your take on mental health changed over the years?

It was around 12 years ago; I was speaking predominantly on media when I began to have weekly conversations with students and leaders around the topic of self-injury: people saying they were struggling and did not know where to turn, and many youth workers looking for resources and help on these topics. I created a talk called Your Story: the Wounding Embrace and I spoke for almost a decade on this topic. It was in 2012 that this conversation changed for me. I had just finished a program called the Arrow Leadership Program and was finishing my masters degree at Wheaton Graduate School in Chicago. I was doing all this while speaking 250 times a year as well as being married with two children. When I graduated I began a journey that I would have never expected—I had a full breakdown. I had about 5 months of chaos before my actual breakdown happened in July 2012 and that kept me at home for around 9 months dealing with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. The irony is that I was speaking on these very same issues. I think my take on mental health changed going through this journey. We as a Christian community are of many minds on this topic of mental health. I found that some attitudes, support and ideas were very hurtful, discouraging and some I would go as far as calling religious abuse.

WAP: Reset seems to have had a great response since you launched it. What makes Reset unique, and why do you think so many people are drawn to it?

It’s hard to keep a breakdown a secret when you are in the public eye being a full time speaker. After cancelling a hundred speaking dates, word got around of my breakdown and health struggles and I ended up posting many of my thoughts and struggles on all forms of social media. What really shocked me was something I have heard a few times a week since my breakdown. It is people who say to me “You got 5 minutes?” and proceed to explain their own struggles. I found a massive number of people within their own church walls that felt completely alone and had nowhere to turn.

I think what makes Reset unique is that is brutally honest about my own journey, and the other people who shared their journeys in the book were similarly honest and truthful. I think people are drawn to it because it is not only my journey but also the readers’. Many people have written me and said that the book put into words what they have been struggling with. It has given some people a voice when they felt that they did not have one; a voice to talk about these struggles with their family, friends and leaders.

WAP: In Reset, you talk about your search for anti-anxiety strategies and how ineffective a lot of the popular techniques were for you. What happens when these methods fail? Do you have any advice for people in a similar situation?

I actually was (and have) been searching for answers not only to deal with anxiety but depression and panic as well. What was the hardest for me was that everyone seemed to have a different path to take towards healing. If I had 10 conversations with people I might actually have 10 completely different things people asked me to try (prayer, change in diet, sleep, medicine, acupuncture, relation techniques, reading scripture and the list went on and on). While at home I wrote this book called Reset but I also completely blew up and recreated my talk on self-injury to be a new talk on mental health called The Walking Wounded.

Your question of what happens when the roads to healing that people offered failed was usually great discouragement, frustration and increased isolation. So what words of advice would I have to people who are in a similar situation? I would say that we as the Church MUST create a process where we can help people heal in the way that THEY need to heal and not how WE think or believe that they should heal. I looked through thousands of emails and stories that I have at home from people who have found some sort of healing in their journeys and I found that there were three main areas their healing came from and certain people who are sort of the “gate keepers” or people we need to talk to in each of those areas:

1. Body (Family doctor)
2. Mind (Counsellor / Psychologist)
3. Soul (God, Pastor)

  • Body: go see your family doctor and have them begin a process to see if there is something physically wrong with you. Have a physical done, blood work etc. At the same time take control of some of the things you can take control of in your life. Exercise daily, eat healthier food, get more sleep, change the pace of your life etc. While you are doing this you also start the second category:
  • Mind: sit down with a counsellor and walk through what is going on. Get some strategies in place to deal with your anxiety, some framework to tackle your depression, some help in dealing with your crushed emotions and feelings and some help in gaining back some perspective in your journey. While you are doing this you also start the third category:
  • Soul: Pray, study, worship, elder’s prayer, spiritual disciplines, have a Sabbath etc. Get some guidance in this area from your pastor, youth leader etc. As a side note: just because Soul is last on the list does not mean your faith is the last thing you try. The acronym is body, mind and soul. That is the only reason it is 3rd.

    In my new talk I walk through this in more detail but the basis for this acronym comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord.”

    My advice for people would be to do all of these things at once and somewhere you should start your road to hope, redemption and healing. Remember in this as well that Healing for most of us is a lifestyle.

    WAP: Do you think that Christians face any unique obstacles when it comes to mental health? Why, or why not?

    This is an easy one. Yes for sure. Why? Let me give you some quick bullet points:
  • I have found that many Christians believe that the root of all suffering is spiritual and not mental, physical or emotional. This does not leave room for people to heal how they might need to heal

  • Some people believe that the Body is “Fallen” but the mind is not. I would disagree and say that the mind is just as fallen as our bodies are

  • I also think that because for many of us we rarely talk about these topics in our Church we don’t have the language to express our struggles and people wanting to help don’t have the language to know how to connect with people struggling.

    WAP: Reset features stories from 18 different people about their own struggles with burnout, and how they reset their lives. Did you see any common threads or themes running through these stories? How do you think sharing multiple stories like this can help readers with their own struggles?

    When I received all of the stories I was worried that we would all say that same thing and all of our experiences would all be identical. What I found was the opposite. We all had unique journeys and each person had found unique paths on their road to healing. I have found the same with talking to thousands of students, parents and leaders over the 17 years I have been a speaker. Everyone is unique and we MUST allow people to heal how THEY need to heal. We can come along side people and advocate for them and love them in their journey but we need to let them find their road.

    I read once on a blog called http://www.aholyexperience.com/ by Ann Voskamp a quote that says, “Shame is a bully and grace is a shield”. The goal of having 18 other people share their stories was to at least start breaking down some of the shame and stigma we have in our church community for people struggling with any area of mental health. The prayer was that people might be able to find a story similar to theirs and connect with someone else who has been there.

    I would have never asked for this new platform to speak from. I have been the “Media” guy for 17 years but I am seeing The Walking Wounded conversation becoming the most needed talk in churches as I travel.

    So I leave you with this question:

    Who are you advocating for these days?
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About this Contributor

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Often introduced as an expert on media influences, Brett Ullman travels North America speaking to adolescents, leaders and their parents on topics including sexuality, substance abuse, self-injury and mental health. Driven by a desire to discuss, explore and share the Christian reality of living in a media-saturated world, Brett’s seminars engage and challenge attendees through high-impact, technology-driven presentations. Participants are inspired to reflect on what we know, what we believe and how our Ancient Faith ought to serve as the lens through which we view and engage modern culture.

Learn more about Brett on his website: brettullman.com/