‘Braveheart’ Sheila Walsh thanks God every day for her mental health treatment
By Dan Wooding, Special to ASSIST News Service
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS – October 21, 2015) – For many, Sheila Walsh’s life epitomizes success. Coming originally from Scotland, as a talented singer, Sheila had her own television show on BBC TV in London, and then after moving to the States, she became the co-host with Pat Roberson of the 700 Club, while at weekends, Sheila would have sold-out concerts across the country.
Besides that, she is a powerful Bible teacher and best-selling author with over 5 million books sold. And her international ministry has reached more than 5.5 million women by combining honesty, vulnerability, and humor with the transforming power of God's Word.
But, despite all of that success, Sheila, who now lives in Texas, has had to deal with mental health issues, and after speaking recently about her own battle with mental health at Rick and Kay Warren’s recent Gathering on Mental Health and the Church (October 8-9) at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, she bravely shared with me in an interview about her own story.
I began by asking Sheila why she had spoken at the conference, and she replied, “There are two reasons. One is because I personally suffer from that problem. I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression about 23 years ago and I think I struggled with it long before I was ever diagnosed. I was prescribed medication all those years ago and I still take it to this day. I take that little pill every morning with a prayer of thanksgiving that God has provided help in this world for us who need it.
“And I know that there’s help available for people, but over the last 20 years, traveling around the States with Women of Faith and talking to other women. the very moment that I say from the stage that I suffer with depression and I take medication, it’s like it unlocks a key into other women’s lives and they’re they’ll come up and say this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone about this.
“The second reason is that I have such a profound love and respect for Kay and for Rick Warren. I remember when the tragedy happened in their family (when their son, Matthew shot himself), I remember literally falling to my knees and sobbing because I knew that their son had struggled for some time. But the way that they have turned what was a devastating tragedy into an offering is really breathtaking to watch. Rather than allow that to let them sink, they determined that they will raise others up.
I have known Sheila Walsh now for about 40 years, and have learned that she does not pull her punches when talking about her own struggles, which she said, began as a child.
“I was born in a small town on the west coast of Scotland and I was really blessed to have a mom and dad who just didn’t go to church, but they really loved Jesus,” she stated in my interview for my Front Page Radio show. “My dad was kind of my hero and was very funny and had a beautiful singing voice. He was just a great adventurer. I was a tomboy so I just adored my dad.
“But then my father had a massive brain aneurism one night which really affected his personality. He was paralyzed down one side, he lost the power of speech, and was never able to talk again. But as his illness progressed the blood clot in his brain began to move and press on an area that affected his personality. So he just became a stranger in our home and ultimately a violent stranger.
“And the last day I ever saw my father alive was turning just in time to see that he was about to bring his cane down on my skull. I was 5 years old at the time, my sister was seven and my brother was two. It was a life altering moment, because my mom immediately called 999 (in the UK, 911 here) and so my father was carried out of the house that day by four men to our local asylum and I lived with such shame thinking that I had destroyed my family.”
She went on to say, “My father committed suicide after he had escaped from the hospital and drowned himself in the local river. And I believed that I’d taken my mom’s husband away I’d had taken my sister and my brother’s father away. And I thought a lifetime will never be enough to pay for this.”
So, although it was nothing to do with Sheila, she admitted that she took this terrible burden onto her young shoulders.
“Children,” she said, do that. Like if there’s divorce in the family or sexual abuse, children are the best recorders of information but they’re the poorest interpreters of that information. Children always think, ‘I did something. This is my fault.’
“So often, we think it’s a lack of faith and if only I had more faith -- and Christians will often rub salt in our wounds by saying, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ You say that to someone who just broke their leg and they’re lying on the ground and you say to them, ‘Why don’t you get up and skip.’ it’s ridiculous. Instead of using Scripture as the healing balm, often we use it to punish people.
“So I would simply say, ‘it’s not your fault’ and ‘there’s help available.’ In fact, there’s wonderful help available.”
One of the most dramatic turning points in Sheila’s life was the day that she walked off the set of the 700 Club and admitted herself into a psychiatric hospital for treatment. So, I asked her what had led up to it?
So what led up to you walking out one day and going to the psychiatric hospital?
“A lot of things led up to it,” she said. “There are signs where you’re just slowly disappearing a little more every day, but it literally during one morning’s show that I had a guest and I asked her the first question and before she answered, she said, ‘You sit here every day asking us questions, but I would like to know how are you doing?’ She meant it kindly, but I wasn’t expecting it and there was a look in her eyes of true compassion and so I started to cry.
“It was live on television and the studio audience and crew didn’t know what to do. Eventually they ran through to a commercial break and I took my mic off and went to my dressing room and I called a friend of mine, Dr. Henry Cloud, and I said, ‘Henry, I think I’m losing my mind.’ And he asked me some questions and then he said, ‘No, you’re not, but you need some help and you need it quickly.” So by the next day I was in the psych hospital.”
Even that wasn’t without humor as Sheila told me.
“That first morning, when I showed up with in the patients lounge, it was one of those moments when you walk into a room and everyone’s talking and suddenly they stop and stare at you. And one guy said to me, ‘Are you Sheila Walsh? I said that I was and he then said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘I’m a patient.’ and he answered, ‘Yeah. Right!” So I said, “Do you think I’m here to do a documentary in my bathrobe?’ Then he said this line that really impacted me. He said, ‘Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but we watch you every morning and you’re supposed to be helping us.’ And it was actually a very freeing moment where you fall off the shelf and you just become one of those who are broken. It was the beginning of what I call the ‘companionship of brokenness.’ Where you’re not the one with all the answers, but you begin to walk beside people.”
After completing her treatment, Sheila moved for a while to Southern California, and I was able to persuade her to “get back on the horse” and do a series of concerts for ASSIST, where she would tell her story, sing many of her songs, and then pray for people in the audience who were feeling suicidal. It was quite amazing to see how so many broken people were ministered to by someone who had been broken herself.
“There were a lot of people at that time who wanted to help me put my career and ministry back together, but I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I was really ministered to by that verse that talks about unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it produces no fruit,’ and I wanted to let go of everything and really that’s why I decided to go to seminary. I just want to study God’s word and start at the beginning the foundations of our faith. I had no idea I would ever stand on a stage again. That was just something that God had prepared.”
She Sheila enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where she did a Masters in Theology.
“I remember at my very first class, the professor, Nate Feldman, was just the loveliest man,” said Sheila. “He did his doctorate degree at Edinburgh University and the class was about early church history. One of the things about depression is that it affects your memory and I thought I wondered if I’d be able to do this. I sat in the very back of the classroom with a yellow legal pad and a pencil and I remember he stood up at the front and he said. ‘This is our story so let’s start at the beginning.” And I just wept. It was so incredibly moving.
“I used to study scripture and listen to messages through the window of my pain and I always thought, ‘Well, that applies to you but it doesn’t apply to me.’ But when you’ve been reduced to nothing and in that moment discover how loved you are by God, it was like hearing everything for the first time. I had very little, but I felt as if I had everything.”
Sheila has since married Barry, who she met while in Southern California, and they have son called Christian, and now she is able to minister again, she said that she particularly aims her message at people who are feeling depressed and, even suicidal.
“Most people think that it’s just them who have these feelings,” she said. “They think that no one thinks ‘what I think’ and ‘no one feels the way that I feel,’ and so I have to set aside a little time every day to answer the private Facebook messages that I get from every single weekend’s event and there are so many. At last conference that I was at in Dallas, a woman came up to me and said, ‘You won’t remember me, but I came years ago and I intended to take my life. I had the medication in my purse, but I just wanted to give God one last chance. She said after she had listened to my message and heard where I’d been and where God had taken me, she said, ‘I went to the bathroom in the arena and I flushed the medicine down the toilet.’ And she talked about how her life is now so rich and so beautiful.”
Now Sheila is launching a new ministry called Braveheart Sisterhood (Braveheartsisterhood.com) for women.
“God is raising up a ragtag army of women all around the world,” she explained. “I’ve been in Russia, Ukraine, London, and Australia. It’s not a generational thing, it’s not a denominational, it’s a remnant thing. There’s a remnant of women who understand that something bigger is going on.”
If you would like to hear the entire radio interview, with lots more information in it, just go to: http://oldassistnews.net/frontpageradiofiles/SheilaWalshMono.mp3
I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Photo captions: 1) Sheila Walsh 2) Sheila with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club. 3) Sheila Walsh singing. 4) Sheila Walsh with Dan Wooding after the interview.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has a radio show and two television programs all based out of Orange County, California.
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