To the Christian Experiencing Mental Health Discrimination in the Church
“You aren’t a ‘good’ Christian if you can’t beat your depression.”
“Depression doesn’t exist; it is not a real thing.”
“You don’t have enough faith.”
“You just need to trust in God.”
“You need to believe more.”
“You need to pray more.”
“You are letting the devil in.”
“You are possessed.”
“You need to work on your relationship with Jesus more.”
These are statements I have been told privately or through sermons and books by Christian leaders. Statements like these further the downward spiral of a depressed individual and hinder them from getting real care. There is even a Christian health insurance group that will not cover anything related to
depression or mental illness because they do not believe in it.
Why is it some Christians are supportive of a combination of prayer and health care treatment for physical illness, but not mental illnesses? You don’t hear preachers telling their congregation to pray away their diabetes or just believe their broken ankle will become whole. If they do, these preachers are categorized as “quacks” or false prophets. Sometimes within Christianity, psychiatry is labeled as a false idea and psychiatrists are labeled as “quacks.” You can go to a cardiologist, obstetrician and oncologist and still be a “good and faithful” Christian soldier… but if you go to a psychiatrist, you don’t believe in God enough?
Prayer warriors beg God to work in the hands of surgeons, nurses and doctors. They believe God is the great surgeon and ultimate healer, but that He can work through these healthcare providers… but not necessarily through psychiatrists or psychologists, not through antidepressants or other psychiatric medications.
In some churches, if you have struggled (and overcome) suicidal thoughts, you can’t volunteer in the youth group. This happened to me. It was quite traumatic as my primary goal was to help lead my daughter to salvation and secondary goal was to be there for youth who were struggling as I once had. Also, volunteering is one of the best things you can to stave off depression. The youth pastor totally dismissed my concern with my daughter’s salvation and told me to keep working on myself and I could be “interviewed” again in a year.
This event was a huge blow and prime example of mental health discrimination in the church. I totally pulled out of all other activities I was doing in the church and never went back. Previous to sharing this story, I was in the prayer group, assisted with children’s church and did community outreach. This rejection not only hindered my mental health journey by making me feel “less than,” but also hindered my relationship with Jesus Christ and involvement with the church.
The message was clear: You aren’t good enough here and neither is your daughter; her salvation is of less importance than our belief your confessed mental illness is a threat to our church. This church had actually helped me to overcome the very suicidal ideations I expressed to the youth pastor, so what a slap in the face it was. I thought this story was a great part of my testimony. It seems like I could have at least helped move chairs. I didn’t just pull out of the church for my own sake, but as a mental health nurse, I was angry this was how my church was treating mental illness. I was angry at what others may deal with, too.
Here are three reminders that helped me overcome this discrimination.
1. The devil is a liar.
The devil is a liar. Just as those preachers preach you need to not listen to the devil’s lies about your self-worth… you do not need to listen to the devil’s lies about your self-worth! It is a lie you need to work on your relationship with Jesus more to overcome depression; Jesus is with you through the depression. I am worth getting proper care, which includes a combination of my faith in God, medication and other supportive services.
2. God loves me and made me as I am.
God didn’t give me the battle of depression to prove anything to Him or the world. God gives me resources to treat my depression just as he gives resources for all my physical needs. He loves me when I am in dark places mentally and when I am full of joy.
3. I am not alone; many Christians battle depression.
Working in a mental health clinic has proven this to me more than anything. Many Christians have a hard time admitting they receive psychiatric treatment, but there are a lot of Christians who do get this treatment. My confidence has grown in this so much that recently, I bravely entered into a conversation in a Bible study group where, after listening to a pastor teach us depression wasn’t real, the majority of people in the room admitted to not only being on some type of psychiatric medication, but that they were glad in how much it helped them. These conversations are so important! It shouldn’t be a dark secret to get necessary help.
When depression lingers after prayers are prayed a zillion times; God isn’t ignoring you. He may be guiding you to get help. Don’t let fear of not being a “good” Christian hinder you from seeking counseling or medication. The brain and hormones in the body are complex and sometimes there are misfires and imbalances, just as there may be clots in blood vessels or weakness in the alveoli of the lungs. God made all these intricate parts of us and he gives us ways to take care of ourselves and wants us to take care of ourselves.
Unsplash image by Allen Taylor