It’s Time for the Christian Church to Accept and Act on Mental Illness
When you come to my church, you see likely see me smiling and holding the door open for you as I greet you. What you won’t see is my debilitating depression and anxiety hiding behind the smile. You won’t see the pill bottle in my pocket. You won’t see the bipolar disorder that’s eating away at my soul and filling my brain with dark, often suicidal thoughts. I know I’m not the only one.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 1 in 4 worldwide will experience mental health issues. Guess what? People make up the church. Christians have mental health issues, too, and it’s time the (collective) church recognizes that, especially with the recent news of pastor suicides.
The stigma that’s slowly being broken in society still feels as strong as ever in the church. Mental illness isn’t a result of something you or your parents did wrong. It’s not taboo. You can’t pray it away. Sure, I believe God has the power and ability to heal you, just like with any physical illness, but He doesn’t for everyone. I personally believe there is a reason we are like this. He will use it for His purposes somehow. People in my church have already reached out to me to talk about how to better help a family member or someone they know with mental illness — something that someone who hasn’t lived with it can’t truly speak to. In a church made up of younger people, I’m sure there are women struggling with postpartum depression. I’m sure there are veterans or survivors of abuse living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, other illnesses — I’m sure you can find them all in the church.
People are under the impression that Christians are supposed to have it all together — that, just because you believe in God, all of your problems will go away and your life will be made easy. Nowhere in the Bible does it say this. The Bible is actually full of suffering. The New Testament letters are generally about persevering through suffering, written by someone who is suffering, to others who are suffering. The cross — the very centerpiece of our religion — is a symbol of immense suffering. We have a savior who knows perhaps the greatest suffering imaginable and died in our place, through no fault of His own, so we could be made whole.
We are all broken in some way, but Christ meets us where we are and offers us His wholeness. He will go down to the depths and pull you out. I know because He’s done it for me. He did it with Job in the Old Testament. (I recommend reading the Book of Job if you haven’t). Why is my mental illness different than the brokenness you bring? Sin is sin and brokenness is brokenness. I don’t believe there are varying levels and degrees.
As Jesus said, the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. The church contains sick people, and it’s time the church acknowledges, accepts, and acts. Provide resources. Talk about it publicly, never shaming it. Treat mental illness the way you would physical illness. God sees us; why don’t you?
If your individual church already does this, I’m so glad! I realize that some are bound to and again, this is to the collective church. Please comment below about how your church helps.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash