Anonymous asked a question:
What are your thoughts on mental illness and religion? I’ve seen some Christians state that you can pray mental illness away and once you’re saved you won’t be depressed or have suicidal thoughts anymore. As someone in the mental health field, it kind of annoys me to hear people say this. Mental illness is so complex and multifactorial but obviously there is a biological component to it. These people need medications and counseling to get better, not JUST God.
Hey dear friend, I once did an interview about this subject here:
I agree with you 100%. The way the church has approached mental illness has been misinformed at best and atrocious at worst. It’s the same with the westernized brand of bright-sided “positivism” and attempting to tell someone, “Cheer up, snap out of it, don’t cry, it’ll be okay, you have to be strong.”
Here are some thoughts to consider about the church and mental illness:
1) My guess is that any sort of harmful condition, from poverty to oppression to illness to addiction, gets moralized by those who are not involved. It gets easy to sling judgmental platitudes at issues we don’t understand; everyone is at risk of keeping a moral scorecard on the homeless, addicts, and those with mental illness, because generally it means, “They did something wrong to get there, so I don’t have to get involved.”
2) It’s understandable though that mental illness is seen less seriously than other issues: it’s not as “visible” as a physical injury, and we’re often biased by what we see (a bleeding gash, call an ambulance!) instead of what we don’t (a migraine? drink some water). This doesn’t make it right, but it takes a lot of time, patience, and empathy to see mental illness as a debilitating urgent condition.
Still, mental illness does need to be treated with the urgency of any other acute illness. I’m a big advocate of medicine and therapy. Some of us will need medicine for the rest of our lives, just like those with diabetes or heart issues will need lifelong medication. Mental illness, to me, is just as serious as cancer or car accidents: both can end in terminal conditions, and require just as much seriousness and safety in dialogue.
3) As far as the “root cause” of depression and other mental illnesses, I think there are at least three factors to consider: biological, psychological, and social. Bio has to deal with our chemistry, psych with our internal mental processes, and social with our community context and trauma (I’m simplifying a lot here, and the factors can overlap, plus the science is ever-changing). For me, I also think there’s a spiritual element to it, but I say all that to say: there’s no singular approach to mental illness for every individual. We need all the help we can get. The more info, the better. The spiritual approach cannot work in a silo apart from other approaches, and vice versa.
4) A last thing: If your church, community, family, or circle of friends is ignorant about mental illness, I believe these are opportunities to speak up and create conversations and empathy. Of course, the degree to which you express these things is based on your comfort and boundaries and self-care. But I’ve been learning not to resent people who misunderstand mental health. I know that they have been indoctrinated to believe that “mental illness is a curse,” and it’s not always their fault they have been deceived. I can say my piece and leave the rest up to them. My hope is that we can make a brighter way for the generation after us.
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