Mental health is a loaded topic. Especially for Christians. As both the giver and receiver of mental health care at different times, I’ve heard the full gamut of unhelpful over-spiritualised Christian responses. But I’ve also seen and experienced some wonderful Christians stand beside those with mental illness and offer comfort and hope. In these articles, we’ll explore some steps to developing a Christian approach to mental illness so we can lead the way in caring for those with mental illness and experiencing the freedom of the gospel.
Step 1: Start with God
God knows about mental illness. We know this because it’s a recurring experience recorded in Scripture. Consider Job 3:20-26:20
20 "Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
21 to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
22 who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
23 Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
24 For sighing comes to me instead of food;
my groans pour out like water.
25 What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
26 I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil."
It almost reads like the diagnostic criteria for depression – low mood, suicidal ideation, psychomotor agitation, sleeplessness, guilt, hopelessness. And it’s in Scripture. There is no experience too dark, that God does not know about it. The very Word of God reflects it back to us.
And just in case you think that God is watching it from afar, uninvolved, consider Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
So far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer,
by night, but find no rest.
The writer goes on noting that he is “a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people,” feeling like he is “poured out like water” and his “heart has turned to wax.”
This is the very Psalm that Jesus, God made man, invoked on the cross. Truly our God knows this pain. He knows what it feels like to have your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth, to feel laid out to the dust of death (v.15). There is no place so isolated that God cannot meet us there.
People often respond to the doubts of those with mental illness out of their own fear, worrying that the person is losing their faith or giving in to the sin of despair. They desperately try to cover over that questioning with spiritual platitudes or ‘right’ theology. In doing so, they neglect the strength of God, who holds firm to those He loves. They are secure, even as they question, for He is with them, even in the valley of the shadow of death. We know this because that same despairing Psalm climaxes with these words:
For he has not despised to scorned the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help. (v.24)
When we truly understand that there is nowhere that is foreign to God, no experience He cannot handle, and nothing that will cause Him to let us go, it takes the angst out of our responses. We do not need to fear for the salvation of our afflicted friend or family member. We are free simply to be present with them.
For some grace-filled music that gently points to the truths of Scripture, check out Rain for Roots
This post is designed to help Christians walk alongside their family and friends who experience mental health issues. It is no replacement for professional mental health care. If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources.
Lifeline – 13 11 14
"Ruth Adams" (not her real name) lives in Central Asia, serving the Great Healer as a psycologist and sharing about Him.