From my experiences, mental health within the Christian faith can quickly and easily become a very difficult topic to address. People sometimes feel like if they’re suffering from mental illness that they must not trust God enough or be “spiritual” enough, while other people can blindly and ignorantly discredit someone’s struggles thinking that it’s unbiblical to experience these battles and challenges.
The Bible talks about having joy in midst of trials and comfort in heartbreak, it tells us not to be anxious about anything and to seek peace and pursue it, but why can that be so hard to achieve? Why can people quote these verses like they’re an instant solution for mental illness, and why can we feel so unspirital and distant from God as a result?
For the reader who isn’t a Christian or doesn’t believe in God, perhaps you can relate to the feeling of isolation that mental illness can cause. Maybe your battles and struggles have been downplayed or discredited by others, maybe someone spoke at you with a list of reasons why you shouldn’t feel that way, or they blanketed your confessions with go-to statements of positivity and encouragement. While it may be obvious that they just didn’t know how else to “help”, a part of you was deeply hurt by their surface-level concern. As a result, maybe you’ve decided that no one cares, that it’s too messy to try and fix, and that you have to suffer alone and mask your pain until it (maybe) one day disappears.
Whether you believe in God, are a Christian or not, my message remains the same. Love is equally bestowed on you by God, you’re equally wanted, equally created with purpose, and you equally have a completely valid story in which God knows every detail of.
In order to be completely honest, some disclosure has to happen on my part. I am writing this from a place of love and encouragement, but not from a place of complete understanding or experience. Though I have certainly felt the loneliness and numbness of being deeply saddened, I have not experienced the fullness of depression’s despair. Though I have felt anxiety weigh on me like bricks, and choke me with its lies, I have not felt the extent of its debilitation and defeat. Amongst so many other mental health and illness battles that people face, I recognize that I am not a testament to overcoming the full grip they have on someone’s life, but I am entrusting these words to God, praying that He uses them to bring hope and encouragement to the reader who needs it.
I also fully recognize that I am not thoroughly educated on mental illness, nor am I in a position to offer counsel. My intention here is to shine light on this topic from my personal perspective and to join the Bell Let’s Talk conversation, in which I admire and support.
To begin, I attended a conference two years ago and went to a workshop titled, “Mental Health and the Christian Faith”. I loved that class because the speaker acknowledged the importance and role of both medicine (diagnosis and medication), in conjunction with the hope, truth, and support found in God’s Word for treating and addressing mental illness.
The information that this workshop provided on mental illness significantly changed my perception, and it challenged many of my invalid assumptions and notions regarding mental health. The tricky part about mental health is that we don’t always and often can’t see it, and when we can’t see something it’s harder to validate, believe, and acknowledge. The speaker, being a doctor, explained how mental illness reveals itself physically via elements of our health like hormones and the chemical balances within our bodies. This is where my under-education may become highly obvious, but this made me realize that while there are likely hundreds of factors and variables influencing the revelation of mental illness in someone’s life, I certainly could have been born with the physical tendency to experience these struggles.
That being said, I want to acknowledge the validity of mental illness diagnoses. From my experiences and perspective, we don’t recognize or talk about the fact that mental illness is not just about emotions, feelings, or coping methods. It’s not just about “dealing with things”, or finding a way to be “happier”. There is medical legitimacy to it that needs to be discussed and educated on more than it currently is.
To build off of that thought, I do believe that the Word of God has a large place in the mental health and illness conversation. I know that this is where disagreement may begin, and that’s completely okay. I can personally vouch for the power of scripture, the power of prayer, and the ultimate power of God – which is why it is a part of my story, perspective, beliefs, and opinion. As I mentioned earlier, my message is equally for those who do or do not believe in what I believe, because despite that, God equally cares about the battles your facing, the lies you’re having a hard time combatting with truth, the feelings that are so overwhelming that you turn to harmful and damaging coping methods, the worth you’re trying to establish, and the love you’re searching for but can’t find. He cares. He cares deeply and immeasurably more than you will ever know.
The entirety of this conversation is massive. There truly is no way to address the topic of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, shame, guilt, etc. in one blog post so I want to highlight just a few points that I feel particularly passionate about.
Firstly, there can be pressure within Christian communities that you should always be good, happy, and okay. While there is hope that we cling to, love that we abide in, grace that is sufficient, and strength given to us in weakness, we still face battles – we are even called to suffer more because of our faith. Yes, God promises to always give us joy, but joy is not always happiness. Yes, God promises to take care of us in all circumstances, but that doesn’t mean some of us won’t have to work through anxiety and receive help. So, the approach to overcoming, treating, and addressing mental illness will be different as a Christian (what resources you seek out, what hope you cling to, prayer, the Holy Spirit within you – strengthening you and helping you, etc.), but it does not make you any less “Christian” if you’re facing mental illness.
Secondly, while I can’t fully relate with how mental illness feels, I do completely understand the need for grace. Grace that reminds me that I’ve been forgiven and grace that reminds me to forgive myself. Grace that speaks truth into my doubts and fears, reminding me that God sees me as beloved, worthy, and righteous. I also understand the longing for a love that doesn’t waver or break. A love that I don’t have to fear will ever leave me or abandon me. Even more than that, I know the desire to receive a love that doesn’t have to be earned, that doesn’t seem to be conditional on the things I do or the words I say.
I can’t stress or emphasize enough how much grace God is waiting to bestow on you, how much grace He has bestowed on you, and how much grace He will always bestow on you. Furthermore, I surely can’t even begin to describe or explain how loved you are by God because my mind is unable to fully fathom it. But let me tell you…He has set you apart, He formed you, knitted you together, planned you, intended for you to be, brought you into being, and wants nothing more than for you to be in a relationship with Him. He listens to your every prayer, answers those prayers, holds the tears you cry, He gives you wisdom and discernment, He forgives, redeems, sanctifies, makes you pure, sees you as blameless, and gives you eternal life. Above all else, He sent his son, who lived a perfect life, to die on a cross so that you and I can be forgiven and can have eternal life. And it’s repentance and faith in Christ that assures us this salvation.
Wow. That, my friends, is grace. That is pure, overwhelming, and unexplainable love.
I know that I’ve strayed slightly away from the mental illness conversation, but there is a tie-in here. This salvation that I just talked about, it gives us hope. It is what makes this life worth living, it’s what causes us to praise God because He has dealt bountifully with us, and through it, we have the ultimate Helper and Healer on our side, fighting for us, strengthening us, and speaking truth into our hearts.
While I know there are so many elements of mental illness that I didn’t address, and that this may seem like a nice way to “brush-off” the reality of this topic, I genuinely want to say that this is the best truth I have to offer in this conversation. While I know there are so many other things to consider, this is the truth I cling to and the help I rely on.
God loves you in ways that no one else can. He knows you in ways that no one else ever will. Everything and all that God is, is in fact enough. It’s sufficient, it’s powerful enough, and it’s divine enough. No matter where you are, what you’ve done, what battle your facing, what struggle you’re walking through, what attacks you’re experiencing, God loves you and He is faithful to draw near to you when you draw near to Him. I wanted to include the song below because it has helped strengthen me in some of my weakest and darkest moments, and I trust it can and will do the same for you.
With so much love, and with an ear that is always ready and willing to listen to you,