Christianity and mental health

I have to admit that this is not an easy article to write. Broaching the subject of mental health is not very comfortable – but like most important things in life, it just has to be spoken about. In the public forum, there are many opinions, views and stories. I hope I can give some context that could help ground your thoughts as you read this.

In light of the recently publicised suicides of people in ministry, I first want to say that it is in no way God’s will that we struggle with mental illness. There are countless scriptures that address our state of mind and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. But the Bible also acknowledges strong, overwhelming emotions: from the darkness of many of David’s Psalms to the despair in Lamentations and the hollowness of Ecclesiastes. Not only that, Jesus had emotions too – many incredibly visceral. So as a Christian, I definitely do not condemn those battling with their mental health. But I also believe that God can empower us to health in this area – miraculous and resilient health.

So how do we make sense of this complex emotional world we are now facing? There are many studies and I could spend the next 600 words laying them out, but I have found in my faith that understanding does not result in transformation. It’s what you decide to do that is important. Here are three things I would encourage us all to do:

1. Seek help

As someone in ministry, I would first want to tell everyone that it is not shameful to seek help if you are struggling with mental issues. I have found many are too ashamed to go to a psychologist or even a counsellor, saying that they just need to have more faith. I would agree that faith is important, but so is action – and going to seek help from someone is not bad, it’s biblical. I would also encourage you to not give up. Many have tried once and have been disappointed or felt too condemned to try again. This is your very existence you’re dealing with – if the first port of call doesn’t work, seek out someone else. Whether it’s through a church (which has the benefits of community as well), through support groups, through a psychologist in the area or non-profit organisations, where there is a will, there is a way. But you need to decide to seek help.

Now I would also encourage you to be careful who you go to – if you’re a Christian, I would definitely want to make sure I share my faith with the person I am talking to – which I have. Yes – as someone in ministry, I see a professional psychologist twice a month. Why? Because I need to take responsibility for my own mental health and wellbeing, before looking after others. I don’t go when I need it. I go regardless. Because life is not easy and there are so many unknown factors when it comes to technology, how the intercultural galvanisation of the ‘global village’ and how the world, in general, is working.

2. Be kind to yourself

Grace is probably the most outrageous and incredible truths found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to read up on it. Understanding grace is really amazing. Living differently because of it is even better. Christians believe that Jesus Christ came to take the eternal consequence of our sin away – inflicting it instead upon himself. So, in choosing to believe that the God of the universe has himself chosen to forgive you, there is no foundation for you to not forgive yourself. You have no leg to stand on.

I definitely believe we should own up to our own wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, but then we also need to live like we are forgiven. We need to choose to believe that things can truly be written off, let go of and you can move on. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can forgive yourself, then the power of those dark thoughts starts to slip. Don’t condemn yourself for what you’re thinking. Speak about it, process it and you will be able to move a little forward.

I find myself experiencing what I call ‘residual trauma’ often. After dealing with abuse, insecurity, loneliness and degrees of anxiety, I still encounter situations that affect me. I definitely know that I have been able to find victory in my thinking, but my soul and emotions are not always so quick to catch up. And it is in moments like this that I need to be emotionally aware – to understand that even though I have dealt with those uncomfortable thoughts, it doesn’t mean that I am completely unaffected by the world around me. It’s not a sin to be sad. It depends what you do with that sadness.

3. Do something for someone else

My biggest battle as a pastor is that I now am expected to be selfless, where before it was something I got to decide. I have seen many in ministry throughout my life that begin trying to ‘reclaim’ that autonomy and do things ‘for themselves’. Please understand I’m not saying that people shouldn’t rest and enjoy life. But if you become a victim to your circumstance – no matter what that circumstance is – it will end up doing more damage to you than anyone else.

It may seem daunting, but I have found that being intentionally selfless is like a fresh splash of water on your soul. In fact, it may even become something you cannot wait for. I believe that is why the Bible says so much about generosity – there are incredible emotions attached to blessing and caring for others.

While your own life may be hard to navigate, one of the greatest things you can do to contextualise your emotions is to look at them from someone else’s viewpoint.

I heard one person describe biblical humility as: “Thinking about others more than you think about yourself.” You probably misread that sentence. I’ll rephrase to make sure it hits home. If you timed the moments you thought about yourself and wrote that number down, and then timed the moments you thought (without anger and frustration) about others and wrote that down – which number would be larger? If you can up your consideration of others, I believe you’ll find yourself more able to deal with your own issues as well. It has definitely helped me.

I pray these words have encouraged you with some action points to help you navigate the swarms of information and emotion that you are facing in your life. I also pray that as you have read, you have seen the relevance of the Bible on this topic; not as quippy one-line scriptures that are band-aids, but deep, tried and tested truths. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit that only comes through having a relationship with God, I believe we can live free in our minds. But it requires action to be taken when in the areas of vulnerability, community, directed desperation, grace, kindness, generosity, humility and self-control.

Sounds like a lot? It is. But in a relationship with God, you can grow in all of these areas at the same time. If you would like to know the very author of your life – click on the link below to find out more.

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