Mental Health Consultant and Founder Chou Hallegra on Christianity and Faith, Mental Health, and Racial Justice

Chou Hallegra Gabikiny / Photo Provided by Chou Hallegra Gabikiny

Racial justice then becomes a point for advocacy and support even in my mental health work because my faith inspires and motivates me to seek, promote, and cultivate equity in all that I do.

Chou Hallegra

1. In your own words, describe who you are 

I’m the founder of Grace & Hope Consulting, LLC where I write, speak, consult, counsel, and coach to empower personal, organizational, communal and systematic change. I am passionate about diversity and I advocate for inclusion for ALL.

2. As a Christian, what do you believe that the Bible says about mental health? 

We live in a fallen world, with many toils and we will face many challenges (John 16:33). Having a mental health challenge does not make you a lesser Christian.  Mental illness is an ailment like diabetes and cancer that can be treated, managed and at times even remedied. Throughout Scripture, we see biblical figures such as David (Psalm 38:4), Job (Job 3:26), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:3) dealing with deep feelings of despair, anger, depression, and loneliness. Hence, Christian who suffer from mental health challenges are not alone. The Bible encourages Christians to see counselors (Proverb 11:14) and get the help we need for our emotional needs. 

3. How do you encourage Christians struggling with mental health illness (for example, a Christian struggling with acute anxiety or depression)? 

I remind them that struggling with anxiety and depression do not equate to a lack of faith. No matter the mental and emotional struggles we have, God still loves us just the same (Romans 8:31-39). Furthermore, those challenges do not define us. Our identity in Christ is what defines the life and identity of a Christian (John 1:12). You are loved and God is our present help in times of need (Psalm 46:1).

4. How do you think the historical legacy of the Christian church has contributed to the current mental health stigma that exists in the faith community 

Lack of knowledge perpetuates stigma. In the past, people didn’t know much about mental illness and have done horrible things to others for the sake of “curing” them of their ailments. Today, those who are not open to talking about mental illness still see those who suffer from it as people who have little to no faith. In reality, there is more that comes to play here. People can have faith and still feel depressed. Chemicals in our brain, the environment in which we reside or work, the circumstances we face in life, can all have an impact on our mental health. Instead of seeing others as demon-possessed, we should assist them in getting the support they need. We can pray and also be there for others. The Church has come a long way but so much is still left to do. We need to start seeing and treating mental health as we see and treat  physical health. 

5. Although often siloed, wellness is really a holistic conception incorporating all aspects of health- spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. How does racial justice come into play during a discussion of wellness? 

People need to be in environments where they feel valued and accepted in order to be well. Social injustice impacts people’s wellness at many levels, be it vocational, spiritual, physical, financial, or emotional – even when those injustices are not directed at us. It’s important to remember that we are all susceptible to the trauma caused by an event or series of events whether or not you are being discriminated against or a witness to the discrimination. Sadly, this trauma touches parts of us that we are not often aware of, both at the surface and beyond. Some will start having physical symptoms such as headaches and bellyaches, others will have nightmares, yet others will have trouble sleeping or become irritable– these can all be symptoms of trauma. As humans, we all have an innate need to belong and when that need is not met, that impedes on our wellness. And witnessing the suffering of others will also make us unwell.

How do you process racial justice issues through a faith-centered lens in your practice? 

My faith teaches me that everyone is valuable and should be treated as such; This means that as a Christian, or as a follower of Christ, I must believe that we all belong,  and this belief makes up the foundation for everything we do at Grace & Hope Consulting. At Grace & Hope, we are very intentional about facilitating breakthroughs and opportunities for all. We not only provide training and consultations to organizations, but we also help individuals process and overcome the impact of social injustice and advocate for change.

Racial justice then becomes a point for advocacy and support even in my mental health work because my faith inspires and motivates me to seek, promote, and cultivate equity in all that I do. As a Christian, my allegiance is first and foremost to my God and although I live on earth, I am conscious of my heavenly citizenship; that means I live as a citizen of heaven, here on earth. And in heaven, people of every nation and skin color live in harmony. I do my part of bringing a piece of heaven here on earth by making sure that we invite everyone to our projects. We always save a seat for those who are marginalized in every one of our projects, books, courses, training, consulting, coaching, and counselor. We pride ourselves for catering to minorities and people with disabilities.

6. As a devout Christian, how do you connect with those of other religions? How do you seek to build community and foster religious inclusivity? 

As Christian, our language is LOVE and that propels us to accept and include others, no matter their faith.  I might believe differently, but I still love deeply. Initiatives like NAMI Faith Net is one example and initiative that is a reflection of my collaboration with others from different faiths in order to pursue our shared goal of making the world a better place. I have also spoken on different faith-based panels regarding mental health, inclusion, and more. 

7. What do you believe the role of the Church to be for those struggling with mental illness? 

I believe the Church’s role is to support and encourage those who are struggling with mental health challenges. The Church should be a safe place where people feel a sense of belonging, no matter what they are struggling with. The Church should not judge or belittle people with mental health challenges. And The Church must be accepting and welcoming of those with mental health challenges.

8. What is some advice you have on how to stay spiritually and mentally healthy? 

Prevention is the best medicine. In these challenging times we are living in, it’s very important to fill your emotional and spiritual cups. Block out time in the beginning of your day to spend time with God, whether it’s reading your Bible, doing a devotional, and/or listening to a sermon or worship music. Do things that lift your mood and give you a sense of purpose and meaning. Also, it’s important to maintain a strong support system, and that means working on strengthening your relationships, always.

9. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give your younger self, what would it be? 

You belong and you matter. Your place on earth is already reserved. Discover it and embrace it because nobody else can fit that role like you do. You are needed and destined for a specific assignment. Go leave your mark! 

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

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