Millions of Americans struggle with mental health issues. Thankfully, the last several years have seen the stigma associated with mental health problems slowly fade away. While there is still plenty of work to do in that regard, the fact remains that millions of Americans, and in turn, millions of Christians struggle with anxiety, depression, and any other number of mental health issues. Understanding what the Bible says about mental health is a great starting point.
According to a recent study published by Mental Health America, over 47 million Americans currently struggle with mental health issues. Of those 47 million, nearly 10 million Americans suffer what is considered a severe mental illness. There’s no denying that mental illness is a prevalent issue in our nation. Over the last several years, several prominent figures from the worlds of entertainment, sports, and politics have come out to share their own stories of mental health issues, which has certainly helped to remove some of the negative stigma that surrounded the topic for decades.
While mental health is certainly no longer a taboo subject, the fact remains that millions of people suffer in silence. Additionally, there is a dangerous misconception in the Church that says that God’s people shouldn’t suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other mental illnesses. Well-meaning believers often point to verses that teach about believers having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and use that to say that Christians shouldn’t experience mental health issues.
If you’re a believer (or even if you’re not), let us clear something up now. There is no shame in having and acknowledging your mental health issue. Yes, prayer is a powerful weapon, but there is nothing shameful about receiving professional medical care for your mental health problems. God has given scientists, doctors, therapists, and other professionals the knowledge and the ability to help patients face their mental health issues.
However, as God’s children, we also understand that His Word is our primary authority on all topics. While mental illness has certainly become an issue that is at the forefront of many discussions, it is not a new topic. God’s people have faced mental health issues since the beginning of His time, and there are plenty of truths in Scripture that can give us even more insight into how to handle them today.
Dealing with Depression
1 Kings 19:4 (ESV)
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
When we find Elijah in this portion of Scripture, it is a far cry from the powerful prophet that we read about throughout the rest of 1 Kings. The same Elijah who had raised the dead, healed the sick, and performed other miracles, now found himself hiding from a wicked queen who had pledged to kill him within the next 24 hours.
In this moment, Elijah wasn’t a faith-filled, mighty prophet. Instead, he was hopeless, despondent, and depressed. While we can gain a great insight into Elijah’s mental health in this moment, we can learn even more about God by His reaction to Elijah’s depression.
1 Kings 19:7 (ESV)
And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for this journey is too great for you.”
When you read about the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, most theologians agree that it was a preincarnate version of Jesus Christ. The Lord came to Elijah in his time of depression and despondence. He didn’t shy away from him and leave him to figure things out on his own. Instead, God acknowledged that what Elijah was facing was too big for him to handle in his own strength.
God is not afraid of your depression, nor is He offput by those times where you can’t even drag yourself out of bed to face another day. Whether your depression has reached the point of Elijah’s, where you’re begging for God to take your life, or you’re simply forcing a smile and trying to face another day, God is not ashamed of you, nor is He distant.
Most importantly, He understands that this journey is too big for you to tackle on your own. That’s why He wants to take every step with you. Elijah was not considered less holy because of His breakdown, and your issues don’t make you any less worthy in the eyes of God. Instead, it is in these times that we find that He is close to the brokenhearted and His ears are open to their cry (Psalm 34:18).
Attacking Anxiety When Anxiety Attacks You
1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Anxiety may be one of the most misunderstood mental health issues within the church. Again, people who offer advice on this topic are often well-meaning, but in many cases, their delivery leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not uncommon for well-intentioned brothers and sisters in Christ to cite a verse in Philippians that tells us to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). While Paul was discussing the importance of us praying about everything in that verse, it is not an indictment against those who suffer from anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety. Please understand that anxiety is not sinful. Paul’s encouragement that we should be anxious for nothing wasn’t a declaration that anxiety was sinful. Instead, Paul was discussing the importance of taking those issues directly to God, our true source of peace and hope.
We can go on the offensive against anxiety before it has the chance to attack us. As we discussed with depression, God does not want us to try to navigate our anxiety on our own. Instead, Peter said that we could take our anxiety to God and literally throw them to Him.
This offensive approach to anxiety ensures that we aren’t just sitting there waiting on things to get worse. Instead, when we quickly drop our anxieties at the feet of Christ, He is able to do what we can’t do on our own.
Building a Support System
Hebrews 10:24-25 (TPT)
Discover creative ways to encourage others and motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing. In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
If you’re suffering from mental health issues, you should most definitely seek professional help. Doctors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals are truly a gift from God. Additionally, we know that there is nothing that we face on our own. Instead, the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us serves as the presence of God with us in the face of all of our issues. However, in addition to God and healthcare professionals, it’s important that you have a good support system around you.
With mental health issues being as prevalent as they are, there’s a good chance that you have friends and family members who are facing the same battles that you are. When you embrace the fact that your issues are nothing to be ashamed of, you can find others who are fighting the same giants.
Find brothers and sisters in Christ who can help you through these tough times. Obviously, there are days where mental health issues are worse than others. Most of us who face these struggles have days where we’re truly OK. However, we also have days where we try to pretend that everything is OK. On those days, find people who you don’t have to be OK around. Find people who can pray with you, encourage you, and help you take the next steps.
The belief that God’s people can simply overcome mental health issues through a simple prayer or by attending church more regularly may have good intentions behind it, but it’s simply not always the case. Your feelings and issues are real. In addition to prayer, Bible study, and Godly friendships, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
A Closing Prayer:
God, I know that You are not offput by my mental health issues. Please Lord, give me the strength that I need to face these problems and the strength to turn them all over to You. In Christ’s name, Amen.