Faith, Depression, and the Truth about Mental Health

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

One of the hardest things Dan and I ever have done was admit Dan’s dad to a mental health unit. 

You see, we were raised in churches where clinical depression wasn’t talked about. And if someone was brave enough admit they struggled with depression, they were told to trust God, read the Bible, and apply their faith.

Admitting you had any kind of mental illness meant spiritual failure.

But the biology and chemistry that apply to medical science don’t stop at our neck. 

I prefer to talk about mental illness as brain illness because I think the term better describes the true issue. My brain is an organ that is susceptible to illness–in the same way my pancreas or liver or heart or appendix are susceptible to illness.

Illness is rooted in biologicial and chemical processes that take place in our bodies.

Brain illness has been stimatized because it has been misunderstood and feared. As Christians, we known that God loves us in our deepest need and certainly in our health challenges.

He graciously created laws and principles that can be applied to the production of pharmaceutical cures that help us in limited, imperfect ways while we’re living on earth. I take medication for my diabetes. While my mother lived with me, she took medications that would give her the greatest quality of life during her battle with Alzheimer’s–a horrific mental illness.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression or other forms of mental illness, please don’t listen to to messages that shame, stigmatize, or throw false guilt in your direction. 

1. In the words of Cinderella, “Have courage and be kind.” Forgive those who don’t understand your struggles. They are very likely ignorant in the true sense of the word, meaning they don’t have a clue what life is like for you. Unfortunately, the church has done a poor job of reaching out to those with mental health struggles. But the good news is that steps are being taken to change that.

2. Advocate for your mental health and find your tribe. It’s common to think you’re the only one struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, or some other aspect of brain illness. But the truth is that many Christians are fighting the same illnesses. Seek out advocates who understand your struggles, effective medical therapies,  and will fight for you.

3. Consider the role of your church and support team. Does your church support those with brain illnesses? Does it provide support groups? Does it help you find mental health services within your community? Do friends and family provide assistive roles and advocate for you?

God is ALWAYS our ultimate healer and provider.

But we must first admit that we have an illness that merits medical attention before we can seek effective treatment. Admitting that brain illness is a physical reality is often the starting point in the church.

For more information about mental health and Christian therapy information visit ChurchTherapy.com.

9 thoughts on “Faith, Depression, and the Truth about Mental Health

  1. This is such a great post Shelly! As someone diagnosed with depression, I’m still trying to really see it as a “brain illness” and not a character flaw or moral problem. With the help of medication, a great counselor, and the love of God, I’m finally learning to see it as the illness it is and am finding ways to thrive in life even with this diagnosis. Thanks for your wise words that will help people fight the stigma that brain illness has in our society. ~Robyn

  2. I forgot to mention a great resource that may help others…Fresh Hope by Brad Hoefs. This is a workbook that can be read on your own or used while attending a Fresh Hope support group. Check at http://www.freshhope.us to see if there is a group in your state!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Shelly.

    I now have a clearer understanding of your ambivalence toward Christan biblical counseling, a compassionate care of the soul founded on the timeless truth of the inerrant Word and that readily acknowledges that a person with a physical problem needs help for their physical problem including medication as prescribed by a medical doctor.

    Many of my counselees take psychotropic medication and find hope and healing for their depression and other struggles by acting upon God’s Word, knowing God promises a good result. Jesus is hope.

    • Thank you so much, Lucy. Yes, Jesus is hope. Thank you for the valuable work you do sowing God’s Word into the lives of hurting people.

  4. So many “Biblical” counselors have done serious damage by treating brain illness as a sin. I wish the church could respond with the same grace that they seem to with other chronic illnesses.

    • Thank you for sharing, Sharon. I know your comment comes from your deep personal experience with the hurting. Thank you for all you have done to serve the hurting, including those with brain illness.

  5. Good article. I had a debate about the issue of Jesus setting people free from depression where the other person (who has been set free) coming very close to actually saying that people who suffered lacked faith. I’ll need to keep #1 in mind.

    • People who suffer lack faith? Untrue–and the kind of thinking that stuffs hurting people into a closet to suffer in silence.

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