10 Thoughts About Faith and Mental Health
A healthy mind is a healthy soul.
Mental health and faith can feel like two separate worlds. For many people, they look at life as either spiritual or physical/mental. Mixing the two is like trying to mix steak and Kraft Dinner. They just don’t seem to fit. But this is not healthy, because a healthy mind is a healthy soul.The phrase “mental health” does not appear in the Bible. Yet to ignore our mental health would be a huge mistake in our development as a person.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind. Jesus, Matthew 22:37.
Why did Jesus say it this way? He didn’t say, “Love God with your body, your brain, your hand and your foot…” These are body parts and on their own, they are empty of life. By saying “Love God with your heart, soul and mind” he asked each one of us to love God with our very emotions, our thoughts, our dreams and our passions.
The weight of living and your faith: 10 Things to consider
1. Your faith can help you cope with your stress and your pain.
Did you know you can also use your faith to avoid? There are times when I have prayed about my situation rather than talked about it or took the action that I needed to take. Sometimes, our spiritual life can be a way to avoid what we need to do. Rather than taking action, we pray, or we read, or we journal. I highly recommend the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. You can find the book at Amazon or at any bookstore. I became a Christian in my teens and some time after I remember having a medical checkup. I don’t remember why I was seeing the doctor, but during the check up he asked me if I was depressed. I lied. I told him I was fine. I lied because I did not want to be a bad example and I thought it was unspiritual to be depressed. I didn’t understand you can’t pray away your mental health.
2.Yes, I should practice spirituality, but being too spiritual may not be a good thing.
It’s easy to overly spiritualize something like health. Some of us have no difficulty wearing glasses or taking an aspirin, but we draw the line at taking an antidepressant. Sometimes we conclude that if you take a pill for your mind you won’t be yourself anymore. Taking an antidepressant or any other medication won’t make you less of a Christian.
3. I believe God wants us to love Him with all our heart, mind and soul, but sometimes this can be difficult.
When your mind races, when you are chronically anxious or depressed, or when you hear voices, or when you find yourself continuously focused on your pain or trauma – it makes loving him very, very difficult; maybe even impossible. I believe God won’t judge you for getting the help you need. A healthy mind is a healthy soul. I have experienced depression since I was young. Some seasons of my depression have been particularly crushing and others were not as dark. But each season of depression has taught me more about myself, my family and about life. When someone you know is in the middle of a dark season, please don’t say to them, “Just think of what you are learning.” That’s just not what they need. It can take a while before a person is ready to learn from your experience. Imagine if a friend of yours were facing surgery. It would be unwise to say to them, “Just think of what you are learning!” Be sensitive.
4. Talking and being vulnerable can change your life.
Sometimes you need your friends, other times you need the help of a professional. Your pastor can be a fantastic resource, but there are times when you need a different kind of help. Should you go to a counselor who might not be a Christian? I have gone to both Christian and non-Christian therapists and I’ve had good and bad experiences with both. Remember that counselors and psychologists have an ethical obligation to respect and give space to our spiritual and religious traditions. It is a personal decision and getting the kind of help that fits who you are is what you want.
5. Your baggage is not any worse than the next person.
Your baggage is not worse, it’s just different. But if you are hard on yourself about your mistakes and your stuff, you heap shame onto your soul. Shame is toxic to your depression, your anxiety, your trauma or your emotions. Shame is like a set of lenses that become superglued to your soul. They color your world, making it so difficult to speak up, open up and just talk. You sense judgment everywhere and you have no freedom. I believe God wants you to love Him and to love yourself. Don’t ignore your baggage, acknowledge it. But hold onto hope rather than shame. For more about shame, I highly recommend watching this video by Brenee Brown on “Listening to Shame.”
6. Let yourself be loved – by people, by God and perhaps even by yourself.
Let yourself be loved, despite your pain. Despite your trust issues. And despite your trauma. When we internalize an image of a loving God, that love heals. If we sense a load of punishment, judgment and unworthiness, it will eat away at our mental health and create a negative emotional life filled with shame. If you find it a challenge to experience love, you can pray about it. But if it persists, this is where professional help may be needed.
7. Love God with your mind by giving it a break.
Your mind, your emotions, your identity and your imagination need more than going to church. Our mind needs a Sabbath. Jesus disappeared a lot. Sometimes he prayed, sometimes he talked, other times he listened and sometimes he just walked. Maybe it’s time to give your mind a break and take it out for a walk?
- Exercise can be as effective as an antidepressant for some forms of depression. It can also serve to prevent relapses back into a depressive cycle.
- There are many other mental health benefits from walking and other forms of exercise. Follow this link for more.
8. Not everything your mind does is spiritual.
Some anxiety is a genuine disorder and some of it is just anxiety that will pass. Sure, I need to trust God and let go, but if you have an illness, you need to get some treatment. If anxiety or depression is chronic or crippling, you likely need some treatment. If your anxiety or your depression is more situational (it comes and it goes), you may respond well to prayer, meditation, breathing exercises and physical exercise. If you would like to understand whether your anxiety is chronic or more situational, follow this link. And remember, be sensitive, what works for you may not be what will work for another person.
9. Stand proud.
Faith has a number of mental health benefits: it is a huge coping skill for when you struggle; being involved in your faith will make you less likely to use drugs or become alcohol-dependent; and you might also live longer. If you are a believer, your body will actually respond better to medical treatments. One thing to remember is that having a faith that is rule-bound and self-critical will actually be harmful to your mental health and overall well-being. It is love that heals, not religion alone. Experiencing depression and anxiety have made me more empathetic, more caring and better able to support other people who struggle. I believe God can, and will, use your pain as a way to encourage and support other people. He can take something powerfully negative like trauma and dark, difficult moods and help you to reach others who face similar things.
10. A church that is sensitive to mental health is a healthy place.
Healthy churches invite people who suffer depression, anxiety or traumas to feel accepted and at home. You may not know what to say — but you can ask “What can I do?” and then listen. You can watch if someone suddenly isolates or becomes gloomy and avoidant.One of the greatest ways I can love God is through the practice of listening to one another. Getting the help that you need won’t make you less of a Christian, less faithful or less human. Your life will open up and you will change in ways you never imagined.
“The Weight of Living,” a song by Bastille, reminds us that we carry, our depression or anxiety or traumas, they do not have to always be this way. We can leave it behind. This post is adapted from a talk I did at my church on faith and mental health. Remember that this and any article on mental health are not a substitute for medical advice or counseling. Please see your doctor and get the help you need for your mind, your body and your soul. I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing.