Christians and Mental Illness

by Richard Mansel

Her public demeanor exudes happiness and smiles. However, her private world, shrouded in darkness and dread, lays behind locked doors. She is terrified that her Christian family will discover her mental problems.

Her church had been there for her during her and her families’ surgeries and yet, she is afraid of what they might say about her secret problems.

She has heard some of them scoff at mental illness as evidence of a weak faith and a lack of toughness. She worries that maybe they are correct.

She tries to pray and read the Bible enough and yet nothing seems to help. Her worldly friends beg her to get help, but they do not understand. She struggles on.

Where did Christians get the idea that mental and emotional illnesses were a result of a lack of faith, weakness, laziness, or a sign of sin? How many Christians have we driven away from the Lord because of our heartless words and actions?

It is a travesty that we have created this environment of pain and fear!

Brethren are suffering in silence because they are frightened others will accuse them of weaknesses or worse. Either they clandestinely get help or they avoid it altogether.

When they need a support system the most, they find only silence and smirks. We will pray for people’s physical illnesses and surgeries, but we dare not mention mental illnesses.

Sometimes Christians go to visit people out of town while they are actually in a psychiatric facility. They fear reprisals if they admit the truth.

Why will we allow brethren to suffer from physical illnesses but not mental illnesses? This is like saying that a Christian can suffer from a painful right knee but if they admit that their left knee pains them, they have a weak faith.

Why are they told to, “Get over it?” Why is this not the answer to cancer or a brain tumor? Would we not fire a doctor who told a patient that they had cancer, but denied them treatment, telling them to “get over it?”

Mental and emotional illnesses are real, and we must begin acknowledging this very soon. We inherit problems and we have chemical imbalances that we just cannot get over or ignore. They are not our fault. We were born with them, yet, we must pretend they do not exist.

A friend’s doctor told him concerning his bipolar disorder, “You can no more will away a brain chemical imbalance than you can will away high blood pressure.”

“Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.”/1

God does not have these prejudices. He knows and understands everything about us (Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 10:30, et al). His arms are always open and ready to comfort, whether anyone else’s are or not. He never shuns us nor ridicules us for a medical condition.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust” (Psalm 91:1,2).

We must create an environment where brethren feel safe to ask for prayers and to be who they are. However, when we bully them into denial and fear, we deny them the blessings of being in a church family.

10 Replies to “Christians and Mental Illness”

  1. The problem lies in calling it a mental illness. Mental references the mind. The mind is the manifestation of the spirit. IF one has a biochemical disorder, then one does not have a mental illness. It is a physical illness that is manifested by altered thoughts and actions. The brain is the enhancer or inhibitor of the mind (spirit). There can be something wrong with the brain that effects this interaction. But true mental illness is a spiritual problem. Until Christians can convince the world of this, there will be the total misunderstanding and misapplication of medical and spiritual treatments.

  2. Bro. Mansel,
    As a Christian sufferer of a panic disorder and Fibromyalgia (two very misunderstood disorders), I applaud your article. What’s sad is that I’ve even have doctors tell me to “get over it.” I can’t imagine being in a congregation where my brethren did the same. I have had a very good support system in that regard. I pray that your article will reach those who have not had the compassion toward their brethren that they need to, as well as encourage those with these “invisible disorders” that they are not alone.
    God bless you.
    Amity Keele
    Haskell, OK

  3. Mark, Are you saying that if a person is suffering from depression that is a lack of faith on their part? If so, I have to strongly disagree. We lost our son two years ago and as a result I became severely depressed. I am secure in the fact that he was a baptized member of the Church of Christ, but that did not stop me mourning his loss here and still dealing with the fact that his wife and two beautiful daughters no longer have their daddy to help raise them. It is something that I don’t think any man can ever understand not having carried and had a baby. It is a loss that cannot be put into words. The depression that I went through had nothing to do with me not having faith. It had everything to do with the loss of my son and a hole in my heart.

  4. Sarah,
    My responding comments are given in kind and compassionate love. You are not the first person to question what I state on this issue. :>)
    I said nothing to the effect that getting depressed is a lack of faith. We know that in some cultures it is custom to openly mourn for months. Biblical characters at times mourned for weeks and months.
    I would disagree with your comment that no man can ever understand a woman’s heart when it comes to these matters. If that were true, then Christ was not our example. He underwent all trials to show that he understands and to be our example in dealing with issues. To say that a man cannot understand would intimate that Christ cannot as well. I do not think you meant to say that.
    Your comments would intimate that you know that I have never had instance for extreme grief. I have no desire to discuss my life, but will state that I have grieved several times in my life.
    A very important aspect of long term grief is making sure that it does not interfere with doing our God given responsibilities in other areas of our life.
    The mind is the spirit. The brain is the physical conduit that either enhances or inhibits the manifestation of the spirit.
    The brain cannot produce thought. If it can, then we are in a true quandry in our attempts to obey God.
    Any condition that is caused by a biochemical imbalance, or a tumor, etc. is NOT mental illness. That is a physical illness.
    True mental illness is a spiritual problem.
    The problem is that the medical and psychological communities have taken the term mental illness and applied it wrongly. This leads to several misunderstandings, misdiagnosis, and misapplied treatments. It has shaded modern man’s understanding of the true condition of man — a spirit inside a physical body.
    Christ came to heal spiritual illness. HE did not come to heal physical illness (except as a short term proof of his deity)
    He and all Christians are to be counsellors. He nor we counsel the brain. We counsel the mind.
    I do not have time at present to get into a long discussion on the topic. Perhaps I should not have initially commented with that in mind.
    I have lectured over the past few years on Biblical Medical Ethics in several countries.
    I am better able to communicate ideas in that forum. It is still difficult to communicate the concepts though because this is an topic that carries strong emotions and that has been influenced greatly by the medical and psychological communities.
    I hope this helps explain what I meant to convey.

  5. I appreciate your article on mental illness, and agree that we need to be supportive of those who suffer from it. However, one of the problems seems to be that there is a great tendency among professionals to diagnose the least little discomfort as some kind of “disorder”. There are far too many people whose disorders are symptoms of spiritual deficiencies instead of chemical imbalances. Legitimate studies seem to suggest that mental illnesses caused by physiological problems are relatively rare. May I suggest you read Jay Adams books on counseling, where he emphasizes the value of confessing our sins. This information is a real eye-opener.

  6. It is not difficult to find someone who has a family member with a “mental disorder” or know of someone who has been diagnosed with a “chemical imbalance” of the brain. I have personally witnessed the effects of medications on family members and how ‘one pill’ can change a life or a lifestyle for the better or worse. It doesn’t take a medical professional to see that certain individuals suffering with disorders of the mind need medical attention and Jesus’ medicine too. The former is fleeting and usually helps to manage a better quality of life for that individual, albeit, temporarily in most cases. The latter, changes one’s quality of life forever!

  7. Thanks to all who commented! Good thoughts.
    I certainly hope that this article will influence some to change their terrible attitudes about this serious problem.

Share your thoughts: