The topic of mental illness raises difficult spiritual questions in the body of Christ and is often kept off the radar and out of sermons and Bible studies. Many Christians are ignorant on the subject and believe the only reasons why a person cannot break free from their inner prison are because either they must not fully understand God’s word or can’t fully trust in his promises. But the reasons go far beyond those shallow attitudes. Churchgoers may not be cognizant of the fact they shun hurting believers by harboring these silent accusations, therefore causing harm to the emotionally broken in their midst.
Do you ever notice that when someone in the church comes home from surgery, half the church shows up with meals and cards? But when someone comes home from months of therapy for depression, their fridge stays empty. There is no shame in heart disease or miscarriage, but why is there a negative stigma attached to human brain malfunctions? Physical and psychological illnesses are met with two different responses inside the church.
Those who suffer from a mental disorder can bury themselves in guilt or shame because they feel they are trapped inside an unfixable condition and can’t escape. They collapse in defeat without anyone noticing, yet can appear intact to divert any suspicions. My experience in churches over the years taught me to keep quiet for fear of alienating those who were not willing to learn of my instabilities or brave enough to hold me up. Paranoia prohibited me from sharing my secrets and I did not want to give people a reason to look at me as if I had gone off the deep end and couldn’t climb back up to normalcy.
You may also run the risk of convincing a hurting believer that any amount of worrying invalidates faith, implying their greatest efforts to achieve God’s healing are dependent on prayer and never on doctors. If that were the case, we would never need physicians, therapists, neurologists, counselors, and other professionals who are used by God to treat mental health issues.
If a diabetic knows their low blood sugar could lead to a coma, would you tell them to study God’s word or would you get them to a hospital emergency room immediately? Why is mental health thrown into a category of its own, making a victim feel they should muster up the strength to change by reading scripture when others aren’t counseled to do the same? In reality, a victim may be powerless to move certain neurotransmitters across the blood-brain barrier, preventing them from experiencing a normal sense of well-being.
If there is one thing I would like to say to a hurting believer who has been beaten down by guilt or shame and is afraid to talk about their situation in or out of church because of it: never stoop so low to believe you don’t have enough faith. Emotions can overwhelm us even with God in our lives. It’s not your faith that is flawed, but rather the opinions of others toward mental health who may not be privy to your intimate act of trusting God for the outcome. When our mind stops understanding and we come to the end of our comprehension, faith continues the journey.
Some people, like myself, have spent years trying to adjust hormone levels and remove triggers leading to depression. My process required becoming educated on all body systems by consulting with a functional doctor and testing for deficiencies, reconciling broken relationships, and adhering to wise counsel from a Christian counselor while trusting God for restoration. God understands us way too well to leave us feeling humiliated or condemned for something we have no control over. He created brain waves, hormones, genes and chromosomes, and notices how our DNA can make mistakes during cell duplication. He sees the anguish, betrayals, and pain we experience and is fully capable of rebuilding us without guilt and shame.
The next time you hear someone at church say a person suffering from mental disorders needs to trust God more, understand they are unfamiliar with all the components involved and may not have the means to provide an educated comment. They unknowingly haven’t given their full attention to the fact that God knows how to work with broken brains, even when he chooses to do it through a variety of methods.
The Body of Christ can be very well-intentioned, and get an A+ in trying to help, but please be discerning when listening to comments regarding medical issues as they relate to depression. Finding the right kind of doctor and counselor is paramount when looking for proper treatment. Lean on others for prayer while carefully choosing who you will lend your ear to; remembering Jesus is the Good Shepherd and it is he who leads you beside still waters and restores your soul, no matter what path he takes you down.
Anne O’Donnell is married with four children and three grandchildren. She has always been a creative person, and enjoys the challenge of writing on a variety of topics in a variety of genres. Annie loves Jesus, and welcomes the opportunity to be a part of this community.