We all know the importance of physical health. We are told to pick food rich in vitamins and minerals, exercise several times a week, and go get regular checkups from our general practitioner. What about our mental health, though? This is a topic that is often brushed off by Christians and churches. Yet, having strong and resilient mental health is vital for our well-being. Those who suffer from mental illness should know that they are not alone, for example.
Mental Illness in the Bible
In general, mental illness is considered to be a disorder affecting one’s mood, thinking, and behavior. The term mental illness covers a broad range of disorders from mild depression to schizophrenia. Our brains are physical organs like lungs and kidneys, therefore are subject to illness and damage just as other organs are. These diseases can skew our view of God and others negatively. Sometimes mental illnesses can even contribute to our sinful behavior. God has compassion for our struggles and He is here to help us fight these diseases.
Mental illness is still not fully understood by medical professionals. Some factors are physical, such as brain abnormalities and hormonal imbalances Things like nutrition, exercise, and sleep can also affect mental health. Other mental illnesses are brought on by traumatic events or abuse in childhood. In these scenarios, we pick up poor coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma that further affects our mental health. These mechanisms can be things like alcohol, blaming others for your problems, or lashing out at others. These sins make our mental health even weaker the more we commit them.
Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will." God doesn't want you to cope with your problems with alcohol like it's joked about so often in movies - rather He wants you to come to Him with His problems. Often, multi-layered treatment is best because multiple factors are contributing to a mental illness.
Spiritual Illness in the Bible
Mental illness has another factor that is not often considered in designing treatment programs. Much of what we call mental illness has a spiritual component that, if left unaddressed, keeps a person in bondage. Human beings have a spirit. To be created in God’s image means we have life that is unlike the life of animals or plants. Our lives are directly connected to God’s life. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” When we are disconnected from God, we cannot live as whole beings. We sense the void and try to fill it with other things. But those things ultimately fail us, and that can contribute to mental illness.
The first step in becoming spiritually whole is to receive eternal life through Jesus Christ. Even for those people who have a relationship with God through Jesus, we still sometimes have misperceptions about who God really is that can negatively affect our view of ourselves, others, and the world and contribute to mental illness. Sin can also get in the way of our fellowship with God and negatively affect our mental health. We are better equipped to handle mental illness when we are steeped in God’s truth and in active relationship with Him.
Spiritual sickness is often a big part of mental illness. When our spirits are healed and whole, our minds can think clearly. Psalm 23:3 says that our Good Shepherd “restores my soul.” While many mental illnesses are directly caused by brain abnormalities, many others are due to souls that need restoration. Unforgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10–11), bitterness (Hebrews 12:15), fear and anxiety (Philippians 4:6–7), and low self-worth can all cripple our souls. When our souls are wounded, we cannot think clearly. We see every life event through a distorted filter. A sunny day only reminds us of the day we were hurt. The sight of a happy couple walking down the street brings a surge of fury due to an unhealed wound. Casual remarks, normal life stresses, and inconsiderate treatment can all cause a person with an unhealed soul to react like a person with mental illness. When we continually give in to those wrong thoughts, we perpetuate our own struggles.
Showing Compassion for Mental Health Struggles
Just as we have compassion on those who are physically ill, we must also have compassion on those who are mentally ill (Matthew 14:14). Just as we seek help when we are physically ill, we should also seek help when we are struggling with our thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. We need not judge the specific cause of mental illnesses in others; rather we are to pray for them and offer support (James 5:14). We cannot assume that a mental illness is a result of sin, and that is between the person and God.
We have many tools to help with treatment of mental illness, including medicine, psychiatry, community support, and education. We need to be careful not to neglect the spiritual aspect of mental illness. We can share the truth of God with those struggling with mental illness, encourage them as we are able, and support them in prayer. When we’re struggling with mental illness, we need to be vigilant to continue to seek out God’s truth, to come to Him in prayer, and to allow other believers to support us in our time of need.