Mental Health and Kosovo
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
A big thing God has put on my heart is the subject of mental health. In Kosovo, mental health is something we were told is not openly talked about like in the United States. When I heard this, I felt extremely discouraged and sad that it wasn’t an open thing I could talk to people about. Knowing this made me think that I would not be able to use this topic that I have struggled with in order to share God’s love with others.
Going into this first week of ministry, I did not think I would get to talk in depth with anyone. Knowing that I could not just openly talk about God with people had my expectations low for the conversations I would have. I knew going into that day that no matter if I had one conversation or one hundred conversations, I wanted God to ultimately be at the center of every single one of them.
We arrived in a city within Kosovo that was all Muslim and, upon entering, the place seemed dark. I was so excited for the day and everything that was happening, but I could not stop sensing a doom and gloom feeling within the dark skies and rain falling from above. The day begun and things quickly changed. The skies cleared, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. Things were looking up, but the day had not reached its peak just yet. Finally, I met Anisa.
Anisa is a 15-year-old girl from Kaçanik, who was a breath of fresh air. From the first time ever meeting her, she engaged in conversations asking me genuine questions and truly listening for my answers. I did not expect this at all, but things got even better as the day progressed.
Several other Ten2 participants and I were about to go to lunch when Anisa decided to tag along and take us to a cool burger place she really liked. We enjoyed lunch and had some fun conversation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that for some reason Anisa struggled in life. I felt that she struggled with happiness or trying to fit in.
I disregarded the feeling knowing that it may not be an appropriate topic in this part of the world. Then Anisa said, “I have been depressed the past five years, but today is a different day.” This statement changed things.
God opened a door with that statement. Once we left lunch, I was able to sit and talk with her one-on-one about mental health within Kosovo. It was an awesome conversation and it helped me learn a lot about the culture and about how to help people struggling with mental health issues within Kosovo.
Anisa opened up to me about dealing with depression for the past five years and what this looks like from her cultural context within Kosovo. She told me that most people in Kosovo are very close minded and the response to people dealing with mental issues is usually not very good. While some people try to help but not many do.
She is mainly told to just “pray more” or “turn to God,” and while both of these things are great suggestions, there is more to it. Mental health is not just about praying to God and all of your problems go away. Praying does not cure every illness, sickness, or issue in life, if that is not God’s will for the person.
Mental health is a day-to-day struggle and not all issues are resolved after a prayer. These types of comments from people of faith can completely turn others away from the idea of God, because it makes them feel like they struggle with all of these issues because their faith isn’t strong enough or their prayer isn’t long enough. This is a common issue people struggle with when seeking help from people of any religion. At the end of this conversation, I mentioned what Anisa said earlier, looking for an answer. I wanted to know why today was different for her. I ultimately wanted to know without asking bluntly if Jesus was shown through our simple actions of that day.
I asked her, “Earlier you said you have been depressed the past five years but today was different. Why was today different?” Her reply was, “I haven’t been happy with my life for the past five years but today I got to meet all of you who matched my energy. No one put me down, no one told me I was talking too loudly, and everyone was just so chill. You guys made me feel so happy and loved. I feel the best.”
The answer was yes, Jesus was shown through our actions. Jesus’ love was shown to Anisa and turned her sadness into joy and rejoicing. She felt accepted, loved, and like she had made some true friends for life.
The next three days in Kaçanik, Anisa returned and greeted us all with warm hugs and bright smiles. It was amazing to see someone who was full of sadness just a few days ago seek out hope and happiness. Saying goodbye was not easy for her, or me, but Anisa now knows she has a forever friend.
“Just hold on a little while, I think it gets better. I am still struggling, but it is not as bad. Please just hold on a little longer.” Anisa said. It is amazing to see hope brought to someone who has struggled so long. Please, to anyone reading this, take her advice and just hold on a little longer.
Anisa now knows that we loved and accepted her as herself, without judgment, because that is what God does for all of us. She now knows that mental health is real, normal, and needs to be talked about at times. She may not have someone in her town to talk about it with, but I pray she is reminded every day that God is with her in every struggle, whether big or small.
Please join me in praying for Anisa, and all of the people not only in Kosovo, but in the world, who are being shamed and looked down on for their mental struggles. I pray that they know they are not alone, and that God is right there with them in the middle of the storm. There is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ.
I urge you to consider encouraging those with mental health issues in more ways than just asking them to pray. Prayer is so powerful, but sometimes, it is not in God’s plan to cure a person. Instead, here are some good reminders; that God is with them through it all, they are not wrong for struggling with mental health, therapy is an option, and medication is helpful for some people.
Remind people that they are people! They are not outcasts or loved any less by God because of these struggles. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Talia Sexton, Ten2 2021 Participant & Storyteller