Mental Health & The Christian Church
Disclaimer: Views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. You do not have to identify with a faith for us to work together, and all are welcome.
Despite the encouraging truth that stigma surrounding mental illness is decreasing, being open about our mental health makes us vulnerable. This type of vulnerability can feel terrifying sometimes, especially in the very place it should be the most welcome: the Church.
The heartbreaking reality is that the Church hasn’t always done the greatest job addressing mental health. Maybe you’ve heard something along the lines of, “Just pray harder, just believe harder and your mental illness will go away.” The truth is that this sentiment, although often expressed with good intentions, has isolated a lot of people who struggle. The Church, although we try, does not always look like Jesus.
But Jesus has always understood. Jesus understands what we’re going through more than we understand what we’re going through.
Jesus is not afraid of our struggles. They’re not foreign to Him, and they’re not taboo to Him. Jesus actually suffered during his time on earth. One of the instances that really stands out to me is in Mark 14. Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing what’s about to happen to Him, and He says in verse 34, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (NIV).
Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
In my darkest moments, I hang onto the truth that Jesus – fully God and fully man – felt this in its fullness. Not only does He empathize with overwhelming, intense pain – He actually experienced it.
Although He doesn’t promise to take away our circumstances, He does promise to give us strength and to be with us in the difficult times. I’ve never been a huge fan of that greeting card phrase, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I think He does allow us to experience more pain than we can handle on our own. What I do know for sure is that God does not give us more than He can handle. Whether it’s an episode of depression, or anxiety, or just a really bad mental health day where we’re feeling overwhelmed, He promises to walk with us. We see this all throughout Scripture. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (NIV).
Living with mental health challenges, I have learned the importance of rest. This is still something I struggle with, but I try draw on Jesus’ actions as my example. In Matthew 13, after Jesus learned of the death of John the Baptist, He “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 13:14, NIV). We also see Jesus withdraw to spend time with God in Mark 1:35, which says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (NIV). In both of these verses, we see Jesus seek the presence of His Father.
So how do we go about this? How do we seek rest for our minds and souls in His presence? Here are a few practical things that I’ve found helpful:
Avoid trying to fill the silence. Sometimes, rest means simply sitting in God’s presence and listening.
Share it with Him. Other times, I have so much to pour out of my heart that it feels like a one-way conversation. God listens to every word.
Allow yourself to be awestruck. There are certain things about Creation that are so energizing to me. Music, wildlife, and nature are a few of these things. These are different for everyone – where do you see God’s presence in Creation?
Seek Godly counsel and prayer. Despite how difficult it can feel sometimes, I ask my loved ones to pray for and advise me. This is what Christian community is for, and there’s no shame in being real!
If you’re struggling, I cannot stress this enough: there is help available. Talk to a friend, talk to a pastor, talk to a counsellor.
Ephesians 2:10 says that “We are God’s masterpiece” (NLT). Because of this, we are worth it.
If you are in crisis, there are helplines available: Death2Life (1-877-904-5671), Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), Crisis Text Line (Text HOME to 741741)