According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020).
Today we’re going to talk about mental health disorders in Christians. Sometimes I think people are surprised to hear if we have a mental health issue like anxiety or depression.
I also think sometimes people put Christians in a box on a shelf, thinking that we don’t, shouldn’t, or couldn’t have a mental health disorder because of our faith.
This Is Not So
In fact, there have been many notable Christians over the years that struggled with a mental health condition too. These include Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and David Brainerd.
These people aren’t the only ones, either. There are many stories about people suffering from mental health issues within the pages of Scripture. Some include Elijah, Hannah, Job, Hagar, and King David.
Why Do Christians Experience Mental Health Issues?
Because we’re just like anybody else. Remember, we’re not in a box on a shelf. We might have health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, thyroid disease, etc. And just like physical health issues, we may have a mental health issues like you too. A Christian can have strong faith and trust in God but still be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, OCD, or other illnesses.
We live in a broken world full of pain and illness. But, that brokenness means you or a loved one may be affected by mental health problems at some point.
Why Are Some Christians Afraid to Talk about Mental Health?
I think part of it could be that box on a shelf thing. But this isn’t always the case though fear isn’t unusual. Some people worry they’ll be judged or their families will be looked down on.
Some people are afraid to talk about mental health issues because they’ve been shamed in the past. Perhaps they were told they should keep the struggle to themselves. Or they tried to reach out and were quickly shut down.
Why Isn’t the Church Doing More?
It’s a question that someone might ask. You are the only one who knows what your church home is like, and you have to ask for help so that your church can serve you properly.
Why do some feel like the church isn’t doing enough? Some of it may come from worrying about saying the wrong thing. However, not talking about mental illness can create further isolation. Sometimes dangerous beliefs can flourish, like: “I’m the only one who’s suffering” or worse, “my mental illness is shameful.”
Consider Elijah’s cries to the Lord.
❝I have had enough, LORD,❝ he said. 🙶Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.🙷—1 Kings 19:4
Or David’s plea in Psalm 42:3: My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ❝Where is your God?🙷
God wants us to talk openly about every issue in our lives. He wants us to “worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). We can’t worship in truth if we are afraid to have difficult conversations. But staying silent on this topic ultimately fails those who struggle with mental health issues.
This might lead many Christians to ask, “What should I say? How do I have a conversation with someone who is struggling with a mental health issue?”
4 Things Not Say to Someone with a mental health issue (& What to Say Instead)
It can be hard to talk openly and honestly about mental health. It can be much more complicated if you’ve never faced a mental health issue or haven’t had a close loved one with a history of a mental health issue.
You may worry about saying the wrong thing and making the situation awkward. Again, staying silent only brings about the idea that those who need help are alone.
God has called Christians everywhere to be the hands and feet of Christ. That means helping our hurting brothers and sisters. As you talk to a friend or loved one, here’s what to avoid saying and what to say instead…
Don’t Say: Something along the lines of God only gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers.
This might sound like a compliment, and you may marvel at the strength of someone you know dealing with mental illness.
But the problem is that these words can leave the person you’re speaking with to feel like they’re failing God in the moments they are weak. They may also internalize your words and believe they have to suffer alone in silence.
Instead, Say: God is with you in your struggle.
Those who have mental health issues often feel vulnerable and scared. Instead of praising their strength, point them to the one who is strong.
Verses about God’s presence include…
❝The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.🙷 – Exodus 14:14
❝The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.🙷 – Psalm 34:18
❝For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.🙷 – Deuteronomy 20:4
Don’t Say: You just need to pray harder.
The last thing someone with mental illness needs to be told is to try harder, telling them to pray more, have more faith, or read their Bible more.
Making statements like this can make your friend or loved one feel like they’ve failed.
Instead, Say: God’s got you wrapped in his arms.
You can never go wrong by pointing a hurting heart to the presence of God. Regarding mental health, Satan weasels his way in and whispers that they’re disappointing God by not being strong.
Assure your loved one or friend that God delights in them, just the way they are. God wraps those who hurt in His warm sunshine feeling loving embrace. He longs to nurture, protect, and heal us when we’re hurting. That’s the business he’s in. He wants us to knock on his door at midnight and come in.
Verses to encourage a hurting heart include…
❝He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.🙷 – Isaiah 40:11
❝Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.🙷 – Psalm 68:19 (NLT)
❝The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.🙷– Deuteronomy 1:30-31
❝I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.🙷– Isaiah 46:4 (NLT)
Don’t Say: God is testing you. Think of the testimony you’ll have!
God might want to take someone’s battle with mental health and turn it into a beautiful testimony of His healing and redemption. However, telling someone, they’ll have a great testimony one day isn’t helpful or comforting during distressing times.
Tip: Jesus understood His suffering—He knew why He would face a cruel death—the reason brought Him no comfort. Instead, what He desired was the same thing every Christian facing a mental health crisis desires: the comfort that comes from the presence of God.
Instead, say: I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.
Before they started making guesses and accusing Job of sin, his three friends did something profoundly beautiful: they sat with him silently for seven days. They didn’t even leave his side. They surrounded him with quiet, steady support.
Encourage your fellow believer with these words…
❝See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.🙷 – Isaiah 49:16
❝God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.🙷 – Psalm 46:1
❝The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.🙷 – Isaiah 58:11
❝For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.🙷 – Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
Don’t Say: Have you tried… [Insert suggestion here]?
Your friend or loved one has just expressed they’re struggling with a mental health issue. You want to help. You love this person and want to help them feel better. So, you share your best suggestion. Maybe a miracle vitamin, a weekend away, take a nap, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, mental health fixes aren’t easy. Remember that if someone trusted you enough to open up about their struggle, they don’t want your solutions. They want your presence and comfort. And they want you to sympathize and understand.
Instead, Say: I care about you. I will listen without marginalizing.
Don’t treat your friend or loved one any differently as you would anyone else facing a diagnosis. To be honest, you can say, “That sounds really tough.” Would you like to talk about it?” You might also say, “Can I pray with you?” or “Is there something you’d like me to do for you? Perhaps a hug or a shoulder to cry on?”
Don’t take it personally if the other person rejects your offer. Some people share because they want to feel as if they’re not the only one bearing the weight of their secret. Perhaps they simply wanted to unburden.
Be open to walking with your friend, no matter what that looks like.
It’s OKAY to walk into someone’s pain and not have all the answers. It’s OKAY to say that you don’t know what God is doing. It’s even OKAY to say that you don’t like what’s happening in someone’s life. During times such as these, all you can do is point them back to the God who tenderly loves each hurting heart.
Suppose you’re looking for ideas on how to offer support. In that case, Coming soon we’ll be talking about Practical Ways To Help Someone With Mental Illness.
Note: Remember that your friend or loved one may need trained professional help, counseling/therapy, medication, etc. Also, many Pastors are trained in counseling too. Your friend or loved one may need encouragement to seek help and that it’s okay to do so.
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