Christians and Mental Health
Can true Christians suffer from a mental illness?
Short answer, absolutely. A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning.
We tend to view physical conditions (broken bones, cancer, pneumonia, etc.) and mental conditions (depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.) as being separate categories, when in reality both physical and mental conditions are medical issues, as the brain is an organ in your body that can get sick just like any other organ.
In the same way that “true” Christians can certainly get ill with the flu, pneumonia, cancer, or broken bones, Christians can also become sick with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Can Christ heal mental health problems?
Yes! We have a God who loves us dearly as His children. He delights in seeing us made whole and well.
Psalm 30:2: LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. (NIV)
Psalm 41:3: The LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness. (NIV)
Psalm 147:3: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (NIV)
Jesus absolutely can heal mental illnesses. The tougher question to consider is how He will do it. God has healed people of cancer in the past. Sometimes He does it through miraculous touch or prayer, but sometimes He does it through Godly doctors and the advancement of medicine and cancer treatment centers. God may choose to heal your mental illness instantaneously, or He may choose to guide your steps to a Godly therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist to promote your personal healing.
Does the Bible talk about mental health at all?
Yes! There are plenty of verses within scripture that talk about many of today’s problems such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and self-injury. Check out the “In the Bible” page to learn more.
Did any of the great people/characters in scripture struggle with mental health?
Yes, they absolutely did! Part of the reasons the greatest characters in the Bible were so great is because they overcame great adversity with the help of God. Job, Noah, David, Abraham, Jeremiah, and Jonah, just to name a few. Check out our page “Mental Health in the Bible” to learn more.
How many Christians struggle with mental health?
1 in 4 Americans live with a mental illness at any given time of the year1. While that number is determined for all of America, you can expect similar numbers within your church or faith community. This means that a church of 100 congregants will have an estimated 25 individuals who are struggling with a mental illness.
Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
How do mental illnesses affect Christians?
Mental illness affects Christians the same way it affects everyone else. As human beings, we are made up of four specific dimensions (known as the Multi-Dimensional Framework within social work). The dimensions are:
BioPhysical: flesh and bones, biological makeup, DNA, brain chemicals, etc.
Psychological: thought patterns, self-esteem
Social: interactions with others
Spiritual: walk of faith, morals, inspiration, goals in life
As stated before, mental illnesses are medical conditions. You can clearly see the differences between a healthy brain and a brain sick with a mental illness. By doing an MRI scan, you can see the physical dimension of mental illnesses, such as lowered levels of serotonin or dopamine, the “happy” chemicals. This is the biophysical dimension.
Psychologically, depression and anxiety mess with your ability to think. You get caught up in erroneous thinking habits, or circular reasoning within yourself. Your self-esteem drops. It becomes hard – nearly impossible, sometimes – to perceive any good in the world.
Socially, you begin to feel distant from loved ones, and begin isolating yourself. It is very common for individuals to feel like they are a burden to others when they are struggling with depression or anxiety.
Spiritually, you may lose sight of what you consider to be right or wrong. In a Christian sense, it is common for believers to begin doubting God and His promises, which seem so far away when you’re stuck in the pit of despair. It is also common for believers to feel like they are not doing something right – “If I’m depressed, am I really saved?” “Is this anxiety/depression a punishment from God?” – which are great questions we will answer next.
If I have a mental illness, am I really saved?
Many people confuse the terms Joy and Happiness.
Happiness is a feeling that is circumstantial. You’re happy at birthday parties or when you’re hanging out with friends. But happiness fades when circumstances change; you’re not happy when someone cuts you off in traffic or when you get into an argument.
Joy is not dependent upon circumstances. Even when we are sad, depressed, grieving, angry, or anxious, we can still experience joy in the Lord. Joy can be better described as an “undertone” for how we live. Sure, life may be at rock bottom, but there is still joy in knowing that God exists and that He loves me, despite where I am. It’s like that whisper of hope inside of your soul, encouraging you that even in the darkest of times, everything will be okay in the end.
The Bible promises us peace and joy through Christ, but not happiness:
Acts 14:22 “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”
2 Corinthians 6:4 “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses”
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”
John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”
Luke 17:1 “He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through!”
The bible promises us that we will have hard times. People will offend us, we will feel hurt, and sometimes we will feel hurt and sad for no reason whatsoever. This does not mean that somehow you are not saved. A born-again Christian will experience hardships and disappointment just like any other person [Matt 5:45 “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”] However, you can rest assured knowing that as long as you believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He died on the cross and rose again to wipe away your sins, and as long as He is Lord of your life, you are saved and you are a new creation in Him.
Is my mental health struggle a punishment from God?
Let me begin by rephrasing this question to, “does God use sickness as a punishment?” – since mental illness really is a type of sickness that is happening within our minds and spirit.
It’s important to remember that God never intended for sickness to exist within creation. Sickness was one of the consequences that came about by the fall of man – i.e., the willful choice to disobey. God did not create sickness and unleash it into the earth; rather, we (mankind) chose it. Paul references this in Romans 8 where he says that creation is in “bondage to decay”. Sickness then is, in the global sense, the result of sin.
But does that mean that just because someone is sick, they must have sinned or angered God? The answer is no. For example, how can a newborn baby be sick with HIV or heart defects if they had not had any time to sin? A baby cannot sin in its’ mother’s womb. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we can look at the story of Job. Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”, yet Job became severely ill. Jesus himself in John 9 says regarding why a man was born blind, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned… but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Just because someone is suffering with some sort of sickness – whether mental or physical – does not mean they are paying back some sort of sin debt (plus, Jesus on the cross wiped away our sins! We do not have to pay them back again!)
However, God can and does use all things for His good [Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”] Becoming sick with a mental illness may be the perfect line to get in touch with your heart. As C.S. Lewis so beautifully states, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Lastly, we should make a note of the differences between punishment and discipline. Punishment is an act of inflicting a penalty for an offense committed, but discipline is an act of correction. God certainly does discipline His children just as any good Father would. God tells us in Revelations 3:19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”. More often than not, God’s discipline is simply allowing us to experience the full weight of our decisions. We may get lung cancer because we chose to smoke. While the cancer is not a punishment from God for sinning, He may still use that sickness for His good, using it as a tool to correct us and mature us in our faith.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
– C.S. Lewis
What should I do if I am struggling?
The most powerful first step you can take is to pray.
Pray these words out loud (not in your head!) now:
“Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you with a broken spirit. I feel beat down and defeated. My mind is a battlefield, and as hard as I fight, I can’t seem to win. But Lord, I know I can win with You. I can do all things through He who gives me strength. I know that You are the Great Counselor, and You are the Great Physician. I know that You love me deeply and wholly, even when I can’t feel it. Lord Jesus, Father God, I ask for Your help. Please bring me wisdom to seek help today. Walk with me and bring me courage to seek Godly counsel. Breathe your breath of life into my mind and into my heart again, God. Remind me that I am a new creation, and that I am not a slave to the fiery arrows of the enemy. Renew my armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of Your gospel, the shield of faith, and the sword of Your spirit. Bring to me Godly people who will support me as I walk through recovery. Right now, in Jesus name, I break off all chains of darkness that bind me. I command the spirit of depression to leave me. I command the spirit of anxiety to leave me. I command the spirit of mental illness to leave me. Lord, help me to keep my mind focused on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, all that is excellent and admirable, fill my thoughts with these things. Thank You for Your ever loving kindness, Father. Thank You for Your mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
To learn more about the armor of God, read Ephesians 6:10-18
Reach out to your loved ones for support.
Depression, Anxiety, and similar mental illnesses are liars. Everything we do – every action, every thought – is directed by our mind, so it would only make sense that Satan’s preferred battlefield is within our own thoughts. Isaiah 9:5 reads, “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” The “confused noise” of a physical battle refers to the pounding of horses’ hooves, the shouting of directions, the clash of metal swords, etc. It is easy for a warrior to get distracted by the “confused noise” of battle.
In the battle within our minds, the “confused noise” is the warped thoughts and perceptions brought on by a combination of mental illness and Satan’s attacks. Ephesians 6:16 speaks of “fiery arrows” that Satan throws at us. This is a perfect illustration of how a mental illness can “catch” within our minds, and if it is not immediately quenched, it can feel like a raging fire we cannot control.
Part of the confused noise and fiery arrows are thoughts that we have all felt before:
No one cares about me / I’m alone / No one understands me.
I’m not good for anything.
There’s no point in living / Life has no purpose.
There’s no hope for me.
I am a burden on others / The world would be better off without me.
I’m too small to make a real difference in the world.
I’m never going to do anything right.
I’m broken / I can’t get better / I don’t deserve to get better.
These thoughts are lies that Satan is throwing your way, trying to confuse you from the truth of who you are in Christ. If Satan can successfully confuse you in battle, he can distract you from deflecting the fiery arrows of his attacks, and you can lose ground in your fight.
A very common lie that individuals living with a mental illness experience is the lie that they are alone, unloved, and that reaching out for help is weak. These lies swim around your thoughts for the very purpose of trying to trap you in battle. Do not listen to these lies!The truth is that you are fearfully and wonderfully made [Psalm 139:14], you are God’s treasured possession [Deuteronomy 7:6], He delights in you [Psalms 147:11], God has a good plan for your life [Jeremiah 29:11], He wants to give you good gifts [Matt 7:9-11], you are free from sin and from Satan’s plans [John 8:36], your body is a holy dwelling place [1 Corinth 6:19], you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength [Phil 1:6], nothing can ever separate you from God’s love [Romans 8:38-39], you will not be tempted beyond what you can bear [1 Corinth 10:13], and God is for you [Romans 8:31] – among many more truths and promises!
You have support all around you. Your parents, your family, your teachers at school, your church pastors and youth staff, and many local agencies that exist to help bring you hope and healing. You may feel the above listed lies, and you may have felt them for so long that you’re not sure you can even accept the truth of your power, your value, and your purpose. But by reaching out for support within your social circle, you can fall back on your comrades to help you in a fight. No one goes to war with a single soldier; a war is won with numbers, commitment to winning, and brotherly love.
Addressing all Dimensions.
You have God on your side; you’ve prayed, and you continue to pray daily for His strength and His will in your life.
You have reached out to your social circle, gaining support with your comrades to combat and deflect the lies of depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
Now, let’s make sure the rest of your dimensions are working towards getting healthy:
BioPhysical: There is a clear biological reaction to mental illnesses. Soldiers in battle must be in fit condition to fight; you, too, need to take care of your body so you have the strength to overcome. Make sure you are eating right, exercising regularly, and being healthy. Medication for your mental illness may be beneficial for you; make sure you talk to your doctor about it.
Psychological: See a counselor or mentor once a week or once every other week. This will help you grow and identify which thoughts are “yours” and which are the attacks of Satan. If you seek a Christian or Pastoral counselor, you will learn how to “take captive every thought into the obedience of Christ” [2 Corinth 10:5]. You will learn the truth of who you are in Christ versus what lies you have been living with, and the Truth will set you free [John 8:32].
Social: As mentioned above, keep a strong support system within your friends, family, co-workers, internet friends, whoever it takes. Develop a safety net of individuals who are praying for you and you can run to when things get tough.
Spiritual: Saturate yourself with God’s love. Read your bible, pray as often as possible, go to church regularly. God’s truth and the lies of the world cannot exist at the same time. It is impossible to be thankful and disheartened at the same time. Light and Dark cannot be in the same place at the same time. The more you seek God, the more you will find Him, and the stronger you will become.