“You’re too blessed to be depressed.”
“Those feelings are from the Devil.”
“You just need to increase your faith in Jesus.”
“It is your sin that is finding you out.”
Having met Jesus in an independent fundamental Baptist church at the age of 27, I began to internalize all the pastor’s messages about mental illness that inspired fear and shame rather than hope and healing. Statements such as the ones above were all too common.
I even repeated those messages to friends and family, not realizing the pain I was inflicting. It wasn’t until I began to experience depression and anxiety for myself, after the birth of my first child, that I came to understand what others were going through. I didn’t want my friends or family, or heaven forbid my pastor, to know what was going on inside me.
I suffered and cried alone, only getting out of bed most days because I had a child for which to care. It wasn’t until my divorce, many years and four children later, and after I was abandoned by my church, that I sought treatment. I was a single mom with five children. I knew I needed help if I was going to make it through this. Help beyond the church…certainly beyond the church that I had been attending. After much counseling, a faithful friend, and the right medication, I finally crawled out from under my despair.
More than a decade later, with the ability to look back over my own experience, and with the knowledge I have obtained through my more than 25 years in the medical profession, I can say with certainty that if you are suffering from mental illness:
- You are not alone.
- God knows your suffering and wants to comfort you.
- Medical professionals are a blessing from God.
- We are not supposed to navigate life alone.
Those suffering with anxiety, bipolar, depression, and a multitude of other mental illnesses do so in solitude because they believe they are the only one in their church who is suffering in such a way. They don’t want to be singled out. Whether that is you, or the person sitting beside you in the row at church, as someone who has been there, and as a Christian family nurse practitioner who has worked with people of all ages and from all walks of life, I can confidently tell you that you are not alone.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental health issues. So it is very likely that someone sitting in your row at church is suffering with a mental illness. Maybe that someone is you. I’m here to tell you, friend, you don’t have to suffer alone.
Mental illness is not a new phenomenon. The apostle Paul tells us that he was given “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7-10). It is not clear if this was a physical or mental illness from which Paul suffered, but he tells us that it was given to him so that he would not exalt himself and would realize the power of Christ.
Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross (Matt 27:46) and wept over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). Jesus knows what suffering is, and He wants to draw near to you and comfort you in your time of need. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). When we suffer, we are not alone. Even when we feel alone or separated from Christ and our friends, we have the Spirit to teach and guide us (1 John 2:27).
God provided the knowledge of and access to medical providers to help us. One of the Apostle Paul’s closest friends was Luke, whom he called “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). The contemporary separation of healthcare and religion is puzzling given the fact that it was religious organizations that built many of the first hospitals, and clergy who were often medical providers. This was true both in America and the Middle East, and healthcare included much focus on mental health services.
God created us as intelligent beings and gave us the understanding to develop medications and care for our bodies. Medical professionals are a blessing from God and the means through which God brings healing and recovery for both physical and mental illnesses.
The American Psychological Association says that resilience is the key to recovery for those with mental illness. Resilience is not an inherited trait, but rather something which is cultivated through learned actions, thoughts and experiences in relationships. Those who have attachments to others and to God tend to find greater meaning and growth during times of grief or trauma and are therefore better able to build resiliency than those who avoid attachment, according to Melissa M. Kelley, a pastoral psychologist at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. This is no surprise to God because He created us to go through this life with others and with Him. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” We are meant to share our burdens with our family and friends.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness can be a deep and painful pit from which to ascend. We need all that God has provided to help us through.
It is certain that we are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. “Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need (Heb 4:16, emphasis mine).
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, there is support available. Reach out here if you need help, and check out the resources below.
Mental Health Resources Page
Light in the Darkness – Message on mental health
Put Anxiety in Time-Out – Message on anxiety
Coping With Anxiety – PCC Podcast about anxiety
Climbing Back up the Mountain – Mother/son article about mental health