Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression

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:

– An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression

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:

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Question: Seminary Will Hurt Or Help My Faith?

unapproachablelight asked:
Do you think your faith could be where it is now if you hadn’t gone through seminary? What do you think of serving in either the church or the missions fields without attending a seminary school?

Near the end of my seminary studies, I wrote a blog post about my entire experience plus wisdom for students here. Read it whenever you like.

One thing seminary does is it will expose your strengths and weaknesses. I hear plenty of pastors say, “Seminary will destroy your faith and make you resent God” — but that’s impossible. No one makes anyone do anything: your environment only exposes who you really are. Same with the car who cuts you off, the friend who betrays you, the dude who holds you at gunpoint, the seminary that pressures you. All of it reveals what’s already inside.

That’s why some seminarians come out with huge Bible-heads all puffed up from learning Greek, or some will have a dried up faith when they learn about Creationism, the Old Testament genocides, and how the Bible was made, as if they finally get to say, “This is what we believe?” No one did that to them.

So be ready for the most rigorous refinement of your intellect in the context of your faith. If you’re humble and teachable along the way, you’ll love it. If your expectations are otherwise, it’s a minefield.

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Question: Spiritually Immature, Or Sick?

brianli asked:
Hey there, I’ve been following your blog as well as your tumblr for a while now and I just wanted to pass on some encouragement as well a ask a question that has been on my mind recently. I’ve heard the term “spiritual maturity” or even simply “oh I have/haven’t been doing well spiritually” and I was just wondering, what constitutes or defines whether someone is spiritually mature or whether they’re doing well spiritually? It’s gotta be more than an emotional thing, right?

I’m digging the idea of the Christian faith being susceptible to spiritual allergies, as if some days we can feel congested (I missed my QT) or we can’t stop sneezing (I cursed out my grandmother). But I don’t think spiritual maturity has anything to do with the strange claim of “I haven’t been doing well spiritually.”

So a little theology lesson: James 1, 1 Corinthians 3, 13, and Hebrews 5 all mention the actual definition of a legit mature Christian. You’ll notice that emotions don’t have much to do it with it, if at all. James talks about how we consider our trials, the Greek work hegeomai, which means to reason out or carefully deduce. Paul talks about infants drinking spiritual milk because they are still in love with the world, and later in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter, Paul says to put childish ways behind you. Hebrews 5 says spiritual solid food helps us to discern between good and evil.

There are other passages about maturity, but they all have one thing in common: they are more about the attitudes of our heart than what we say, do, or feel. And from the position of our heart comes the saying, the doing, the feeling. Christian maturity is a growing process of habits, obedience, experiences, biblical learning, accountability, and church involvement that accumulate over time and tough seasons, which result in a continually changed heart. Think of the four seeds, the Parable of the Sower, and while some say the seeds represent different types of people, it could also be the stages of one person’s spiritual journey.

When someone says, “I’m not doing well spiritually,” I understand what they mean — they haven’t been reading their Bible lately, they’re not connecting in worship service, they watched Jersey Shore and liked it — but that’s usually a cop-out for lukewarmness.

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Question: The Ground War Against Depression and Anxiety

Facingfugue asked:
Hello! Your posts are a blessing. I see that you come from an area of knowledge in the psychology area as well spirituality . I have been struggling with anxiety attacks for the past two years. Do you have any advice coming from a perspective of a Christian as well? I have been doing C.B therapy but it really is not helping a lot. I used to be very depressed because it made me feel helpless, but Christ has been my refuge and HE has been my joy. The anxiety has been much harder to work out though

Thank you for your kind words!  I’m not sure I’m too knowledgeable about psychology but it does interest me a lot.

I’ve also suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. There was a suicide attempt in 2004 and I have cut myself before. CB therapy (Cognitive Behavioral) can be good for pointing out certain patterns and schemas, but may not be as helpful for treatment as you already know. 

Both therapy and the church can be really bad at handling depression.  Some people stuff it with drugs and others will say it’s “all in your head, get over it.”  Those who do not go through depression have no idea how debilitating it really is. 

There’s probably no formula/advice/plan I could give that’s 100% effective, but I can try to help from experience.  I’m also assuming that you already highly value prayer, reading the Bible, relying on the Holy Spirit, and attending church.  Medicine is also totally appropriate. That’s all the air warfare; here’s the ground war.

1) Be as honest as possible. Without being a victim about it, let people know what’s going on. Tell somebody. I made the mistake of hiding it too often.  Not that you want to announce it with trumpets, but even one or two close friends or your pastor should know when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Some people will definitely be uncomfortable and ungracious, but then those people aren’t the ones who get you anyway.

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