The idea that mental illness does not exist or is demonic is the biggest roadblock to Christians seeking professional help. While this may not be the present stance in churches, it is with many Christians.
It is a widespread belief that Christians living with depression or anxiety who go to a pastor or friend are told it is a spiritual problem and can be prayed away. Mental illness is a complex mix influenced by the brain’s situational, environmental, biological, and chemical breakdowns. Though there is too much to learn about the exact symptoms of mental illness, we must consider the importance of the brain and what is spiritual. Many people suffer from anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsion, and other issues.
The fact remains that mental illness is a real brain disorder having a measurable impact on the mind and a person’s ability to function at an average level. Even though it may impact a person’s faith journey, its root is biological, not spiritual. It is a common belief among many Christians that mental illness is due to a lack of faith.
This may be well-meaning, but it is dangerous to those with mental illness, putting them at risk of suicide. Some use scripture such as Psalm 34:17,
“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles,” or Psalm 30:11-12, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”
The parallels between these verses are problematic because they do not speak about mental illness. Many verses people try to pull out of the Bible about mental health our not applicable in navigating these issues. Some Bible verses do, but not all. Anxiety, depression or bipolar are unique issues of mental illness that need to be addressed not by just using scripture, but by understanding the person’s mind. Treating mental illness as sin or demonic is a problem that does not prevent mental health and causes many other issues. For many Christians who seek therapy, it is important to come alongside them helping them work through the trauma or chronic stress not to trigger worse mental health issues.
Many Christians have a misconception stemming from the old idea that mental illness results from unconfessed sin. The reality of mental illness is that many who are helped to cope with such problems can become influential leaders in the church with empathy for those suffering. Some with mental illness may need little backing and encouragement but being given a chance may be a great resource. Those seeking treatment and learning to manage mental health disorders can become valuable leaders showing empathy. Mental illness and Christianity should not be at odds with one another but become possible to commit to unity creating a service to help people living with mental illness.
While mental health is not discussed much in Christian circles, it needs to be something that comes out in the open. Many in the church suffer from panic attacks, manic, depression or obsessiveness. Many of the stigmas about mental health are outdated and should not exit in churches, but churches should find effective ways of combating mental health issues. Many people who suffer from mental health need to feel welcome by the church, so there is a need for programs that effectively reach out to those who have a mental illness.