Mental Health Awareness Month is an annual event designed to highlight the realities of living with mental illnesses and also to place focus on strategies to achieve good mental health and wellbeing. As people of faith, this is always a useful opportunity to reflect on the connection between Christianity and mental health.
There are big questions to ponder. Where is God in our struggles with mental health? How do mental health and religion work together? What part does faith play in achieving good mental health and wellbeing?
This is what we are exploring in this blog from Glorify.
The state of play
Recent mental health studies conducted by the World Health Organization make difficult reading. Depression is now one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions. Covid, climate change, racial injustice and other world issues have caused unprecedented levels of anxiety and uncertainty. We are, undoubtedly, within a mental health pandemic.
As Christians, the question that arises is, where is God in all of this?
We are certainly not immune from mental health challenges just because we follow Jesus (and nor should we ever be ashamed to admit that we are struggling). So how do we incorporate our faith into our journey to nurture a healthy mind (both in ourselves and those around us)?
As with all challenging questions, scripture is a wise guide on this path. This is where we begin.
Christianity and mental health: the foundation
As Christians, we believe (and Scripture asserts) that God is the root of strong, sustainable, enduring and true mental health.
Although easier said than done, that means our mental health is dependent on us learning to see God as God and to live, with all our weakness, in the power of His Spirit. As we discover our true identity in Him as sons and daughters, understanding His forgiveness, grace and unconditional love, we find the way to true and lasting peace.
Although God, of course, cares deeply about our souls and the spirit within us, He also cares very practically for our body and minds. He is the God of all of our humanity. Consequently, we can confidently say that God cares about our mental health. He desires to lead us all to a place of resilient and enduring wellbeing.
1. An Opportunity
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
The Bible presents to us multiple glimpses of the mental health we can enjoy as followers and children of God. It is a beautiful and hope-filled picture. The trajectory of Scripture is clear: in Christ, we have all we need. We can survive, endure, persevere and thrive when Jesus is the centre of our lives. With Jesus, there is stability, security, hope and joy.
Philippians 4 tells us we need not be anxious about anything. Jesus tells us in John 14 that our hearts do not need to be troubled. Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit involves joy and peace (and much more!). These are images of the strong mental wellbeing we can experience in Christ.
There is, then, a unique opportunity that we have as Christians: the ability to live a full abundant life in Christ even amid suffering, grief, uncertainty and pain. Christianity and mental health go together. Scripture is filled with many hope-giving promises about our wellbeing. The question, though, is how to see those promises become practical realities in our lives.
2. A challenge
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
If you’re human, you’ll quickly realise that the scriptural promises in relation to Christian mental health don’t necessarily come easily. “Don’t be anxious” isn’t exactly a simple command to apply. It’s easy to read verses like those above while at the same time feeling exactly the opposite. Maybe you’re reading this today and the opportunities described in the Word simply aren’t your reality, and it pains you to feel that way. Let me tell you for certain – you’re not the only one.
There is a deep-seated tension for us to grapple with as Christians between the kingdom-possibility and the current reality. We live ‘in-between’ Christ’s first coming and His second. It’s the very tension that Jesus asked us to pray for in the passage from the Lord’s prayer above.
When we think about Christianity and mental health, we need to realise that God’s kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. It is not fully perfected on earth (yet) but we can certainly see some of it now. Consequently, it’s something to be fervently praying into – for ourselves and those around us. This, indeed, is our challenge: don’t neglect prayer in the area of mental health. Don’t settle for your current reality. There is more available and let the promises of Scripture fill you with hope rather than despair.
3. A reminder
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5
As we navigate this “now and not yet” Kingdom of Heaven, it is important to remember that it is OK to struggle with our mental health as Christians. You are not the only one. Everyone experiences it. The Biblical witness is full of people struggling with mental health. Acknowledging your emotions and brokenness is not a bad thing, but rather an important thing… it’s all over Scripture!
Consider the Psalms of Lament, the book of Lamentations or the anguish of the Old Testament prophets. The Bible contains the full array of human emotions and this brings us reassurance as Christians: we definitely don’t need to have it all together to follow Jesus.
Just like the quotation from Psalm 42 above, we can be angry, grieved, sorrow-filled and frustrated before God. We can openly express emotions to God. There’s not something wrong with you if you are downcast, grieving, sorrow-filled or struggling for hope. The Lord is with you throughout.
When you are struggling with your mental health, God is close and compassionate. Don’t forget it.
4. An Encouragement
Our encouragement, then, as we engage with Mental Health Awareness Month from a Christian perspective is this: Scripture provides for us answers to our deepest human needs, primarily by pointing us to Jesus but also practically by shaping what that journey looks like. Consequently, the Bible is our invaluable manual for Christian mental health. Don’t neglect it.
I want to conclude with a simple toolbox. Here are four things to consider doing that can impact your mental health as a Christian. Not everything will be applicable to everyone all the time; choose what you need.
- Spend time in God’s presence. For the anxious, busy and overwhelmed. Find space in your life for quiet, solitude and prayer. Regular processing space is critical in these uncertain times. We need moments of stillness and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to process all of life’s challenges and issues.
- Work from rest. For the stressed, weary and exhausted. Consider God’s principle of Sabbath. Jesus is the source of true rest. Come to Him, and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Let that be your starting point.
- Don’t do it alone. For the lonely and broken-hearted. The church is a body. When one part hurts, everyone hurts. Be courageous enough to seek out help, genuine support and accountability. Don’t be afraid to refer yourself to professional help and medical services where appropriate. Don’t keep this to yourself.
- Trust God. For everyone. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) As Christians, we believe that God is the key to wellness. Trust Him today. Lean on Him. He is with you.
Christianity and mental health: the bottom line
God cares about you. He cares about your mental health. As a result, Christianity and mental health go hand-in-hand. You don’t have to keep them in separate “boxes” in your life.
Let us encourage you today to simply let God into your journey and your struggles.