Faith, Depression, and the Truth about Mental Health

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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

PTSD and Painting the Bricks


Ten years ago my husband Dan and I moved from Iowa back to my home state of Michigan. Why? My mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to take care of her. After a three-month search, Dan and I found jobs and a house forty-five minutes from my parents.

When we moved, my husband Dan’s father, who was in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease, moved with us. He’d lived with us for four years, and I’d been his primary caregiver.

But after just a few months in our Michigan home, Norman fell. First in his bathroom. Then in hallway. He began choking more frequently on his meals. And he struggled more and more against the prison that held his mind captive. Some mornings I struggled for more than an hour just to get him to swallow his medications.

So in March, just seven months after our move, Dan and I placed Norman in the nearby Home for Veterans, where he was cared for eleven months until he passed away.

Trauma and tears

One week after Norman moved to the VA, my mom and dad moved into “Norman’s room.” Over the next four years, every room of our tiny house would become marked by my mother’s pain.

Night after night, I cradled her on the couch as she trembled and wept for her mother who would never come.

In the long afternoon hours, I paced beside her from the front door to the back as she begged to go “home.”

We spent hours together folding and re-folding baskets of laundry.

And more times than I can bear to remember, I administered medical procedures too intimate to entrust to professional caregivers, while I listened to Mom’s childlike pleas for help.

Eventually, our family placed my mom in an Alzheimer’s facility where she was cared for by loving professional caregivers until her death. But after Mom left my house six years ago, my home never felt the same again.

Thank you, Mel

A few months ago I was talking to a friend who remarried. She and her husband recently made the decision to move from Colorado to the south. When I asked why, my friend responded, “You know, when we got married, I moved into Mel’s house. He has very few positive memories of life in that home because of the trauma of his first marriage. It’s important for him to stop living with the memories of his painful past, so we decided to move.”

With that simple statement, light dawned for me. Every room in my house has been marked by the trauma of caregiving, grief, and death. I have never enjoyed my home. Every room bears bittersweet memories. And while I may not be able to move, I can bring new life into those rooms.

In fact, I NEED to bring new life into my home. One important aspect of recovery from PTSD is renewal.

I’m focusing on renewal this week one brush stroke at a time–fresh white paint on a brown brick fireplace that I’ve tolerated and never loved. By the end of the week, I will love that fireplace, and the mantle will be marked with something beautiful. Something for me. Something to commemorate the new space.

Caregiving has been a hard journey for me. So traumatic that it became important for me to seek trauma treatment. But sometimes trauma treatment includes painting the mantle. Or moving the furniture. Or switching bedrooms. Or planting a garden. Something tangible that refreshes the soul and reminds us that beauty still exists and is worth pursuing.

Think about it

If you’re experiencing fatigue, depression, or other symptoms related to PTSD, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is your environment or are elements of your environment triggering you? If so, in what ways?

2. What positive changes could you make? What small steps could you take to begin?

3. In what ways can you link those changes to hope, healing, and a vision for your future?

4. What things might you be fearful of confronting and why? Talk to your therapist or counselor about how you can address those fears.

“His mercies begin fresh every morning.” Lamentations 3:23

Brain Illness: How the Church Can Help


My father-in-law Norman served as a missionary who worked with children for more than twenty years. Put Norman front of a crowd of kids, and they sat in rapt attention. Put him in a room filled with adults, and he struggled to know what to say.

It took my husband’s family decades to understand how profoundly Norman’s father’s suicide affected him and how as a child Norman became “stuck” in trauma when his father hung himself from the barn rafters. Norman was the child who’d found his dad.

My husband was in his twenties when he learned his father had committed suicide. And even after that, family members seldom talked about it. The same thing seemed to be true decades later when Norman developed aspects of mental illness. No one in the churches we attended seemed to see a relationship between mental illness, faith, and the Bible.

Dan and I were told to hang on, trust, and read the Bible. Great advice. But not words that represent the heart of God for the hurting.

Mental Illness and the Church

About ten years ago, Dan’s job moved us to a new community, and we joined a church with a different feel from any church we’d known before. The senior pastor spoke openly about his childhood in an alcoholic home and how his experiences had shaped his fears, expectations, attitudes, and patterns for relating. Other pastoral staff members referenced their struggles from their painful pasts. About a half a dozen pastoral staff members were licensed counselors, and several times a year the church offered to pay for counseling for individuals or family members in need.

Not just with church staff counselors.

The church had a health counsel that included physicians and counselors who taught regular classes on all aspects of health–including the brain. We were (and are) taught that stewardship of our bodies includes health in body, soul, and spirit, and that mental health is not an “add-on” to physical health.

The most refreshing aspect of all is that those with brain illness (or mental illness) were welcomed in an environment of safety and support, were offered practical and financial resources, biblical teaching, and the counsel of experienced and godly professionals.

How the Church Can Help

  • Develop a top-down culture of openness toward mental health in the church. Pastors communicate safety and acceptance when they talk about their own failures, struggles, and journey of growth. Reflect healthy transparency as staff members about accountability in the battles of life.
  • Offer resources on brain illness to your church and community. Incorporate health ministry as integrated aspect of church life, and teach the biblical relevance of stewardship of body, mind, and soul. Even small churches can compile local and online resources or direct people to other ministries. Offer classes for those with chronic illnesses and their caregivers. Offer education from medical and mental health professionals, as well as those who have experienced medical and mental health needs. Give those within your community a voice.
  • Model and teach compassion, acceptance, respect, and grace. Many people with brain illness feel they have no one to talk to. A recent survey indicated that 49% of people are afraid to be a friend to someone with a diagnosed mental illness. If you’re a pastor, integrate message about mental health. Model compassion, love, and respect. If you’re a member, encourage church leaders to engage in training and seminars, such as the recent Gathering for Mental Health in the Church at Saddleback Church.
  • Network with other ministries. Learn what other churches in your community offer–GriefShare, Stephen Ministers, cancer support and chronic illness groups, respite and other support services.
  • Reach out. Sometimes hope begins with something as simple as a phone call, a hand on a shoulder, a cup of coffee, or taking time to simply listen.

Hang on. Read the Bible. And trust God. Then do what he did: jump into the mess of this world and confront the pain as you bring comfort and hope to the suffering.


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