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The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Faith Community

Our culture has undoubtedly perpetuated health and wellness within the past few decades. Every day, new articles are published––what to eat, what not to eat, how to work out, when to work out––and most recently, the subject of mental health has taken its seat next to physical wellbeing.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S and the two almost always go hand-in-hand. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S., social anxiety disorder affects 15 million adults in the U.S. and major depressive disorder affects 16.1 million adults in the U.S.

Anxiety and depression clearly have a large impact. Unfortunately, they are only two of the many mental health disorders talked about in the world today.

More and more conversation in the media and among high-profile celebrities is circulating around mental health. Self-care is promoted and encouraged by physicians to regulate stress and prevent the development of mental disorders.

It seems everywhere I turn, mental health is being addressed—except for the Church.

This fact became evident to me after seeing a tweet from John Piper’s Desiring God ministries team. The account tweeted Feb. 6: “We will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God.”

If the simple solution to mental illness was focusing on God, then thousands of strugglers would be cured. The tweet expressed pure ignorance.

In my personal experience, struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety meant one did not have a strong relationship with God. They were selfish and narcissistic. As I’ve grown older and had my fair share of personal struggles with mental health issues, I realized these issues have nothing to do with the person caught in the battle.

I’ve encountered powerful spiritual leaders in my life who have been transparent about their struggles with mental health. These are some of the most influential Christian leaders who pour into God’s Word every day, pray, attend church, preach and lead groups of individuals to the love of Christ.

Look at the Bible for more proof. David, known as “a man after God’s own heart,” cries out to God in the depths of despair multiple times throughout the book of Psalms. Jeremiah, a man called by God to prophesize to the people of Israel, was known as “the weeping prophet.”

These are men we talk about in our church walls and admire for their leadership. I have no doubt they focused their minds on God day after day, but they still struggled.

Mental illness is not weak. Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder––these are not choices to make. If the Church would only look at the scientific studies surrounding them, they would see these struggles are not chosen. These battles are often due to chemical imbalances in the human brain.

I believe with God all things are possible, but I also believe this means God’s aid is sometimes in human hands. We have resources and medication available for those who struggle. Taking medication and receiving help is not weakness, nor does it mean one does not trust God.

God has given us the incredible power of modern medicine. Rather than dismissing it or arguing mental health is a “choice,” the Church needs to recognize this is a widespread issue, and we are two steps behind the rest of society.

 

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