Sometimes it can be difficult for a person to seek help when they have a mental health issue, and the reasons vary: they may feel pressure from their friends and family to not seek help, they may see the issue as taboo, they might not feel that they need to seek help, just to name a few. But another issue comes into the question which is rarely addressed in the mental health community: is mental illness the result of a lack of faith?
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, hear me out. The arguments are strong on both sides, and some of the most well-meaning people can cause severe damage by reacting strongly to this issue. But I have a few thoughts on the subject which may help to hash things out.
First of all, let me be clear: mental health and attitude are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. This is extremely important to keep in mind, especially when discussing the spiritual side of mental health. The Bible commands us to have a good attitude (In the NIV, Phillippians 2:14 says, “do everything without grumbling or arguing”) but there is no commandment in the Bible the tells us to be well. Many of the disagreements I’ve been a part of have stemmed from a lack of understanding on at least one side, and the common confusion is that your mental health is the direct result of your attitude.
This is wrong.
To believe that your mental health is the direct result of your attitude is to believe that catching a cold has the same cause. You can do things to prevent getting a cold – washing hands, taking vitamins, eating well – but if you catch one, it doesn’t mean that your attitude is the problem. The same is true about mental health.
For the longest time, I’ve advocated against using the term “mental health” when it comes to describing the illnesses we suffer in our brain, because it is largely misleading: depression and anxiety, a lot of the time, are the direct result of chemicals in our brain which are not being properly made and/or processed. There are other causes, of course – but a lot of the time, the cause is actually physical, and like any other physical injury or illness, nothing we say or feel could prevent it.
You can have a perfectly good attitude all the time and still struggle with mental illness. I’m not a doom and gloom type of person, as most of my friends would probably agree, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience depressive episodes and anxious meltdowns. What it does mean, however, is that when these things happen, I choose not to let them take full control of my life. Which leads me to my second point:
There is a difference between experiencing mental illness and wallowing in it.
Absolutely. There are people who suffer from mental illness and who fight it every day. They get tired and they need to rest – like anyone fighting off the flu – but that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on themselves. It just means that they need to recharge before going back into the fight.
Similarly, there are people (as much as I hate to admit this) who use mental illness as an excuse for everything. They give in to it and let it take over their lives. This is a sensitive topic for everyone in the mental illness community – how are we supposed to sort out the fighters from people who simply ‘don’t try hard enough?’ – but to someone outside the mental health community, these two types of people may look exactly alike.
In my opinion, it’s not really anyone’s business who is trying to get better and who isn’t. If it’s a spiritual issue, then that’s between them and God, not anyone else. I generally try to treat everyone with respect, and if they say that they are going through something, I take them at their word. In the Christian community, if someone says they have cancer, no one says, “let me see it before I pray for you.” No. We believe them. We pray for them. And if they’re lying about it, or using it to exploit people, we let God deal with it. Period.
Third, just because we can’t choose to “be happy” doesn’t mean that we aren’t right with God.
I always cringe at the people who say, “if you’re still sick, it means that you haven’t prayed hard enough.” No. No, no, no, no, no. This is so, so wrong.
I’ll be honest: there have been many times in my life where I’ve cried out to God, begging Him to take away the anxiety and depression I experience on a daily basis. I still pray for it. I would love to wake up one morning and find that I’ve been completely and totally healed. So far, however, the answer has been no. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve done anything wrong.
Yeah, we’re all sinners, and we live in a broken world – that’s why we have death and disease to begin with. But I don’t think that the reason why God has chosen to let me live with mental illness is because I’ve done something horribly unforgiveable, or because my faith isn’t strong enough to heal it.
I believe that God has allowed this thing to continue in my life because it is a part of my testimony. It reminds me daily that I can’t do everything in my own strength, and that I must rely on Him in order to get through. And what does He do? He provides me with support from my friends and family. He guides me to doctors and therapists and medications. He gives me something to write about on this blog, which reaches so many people every day.
People exactly like me. People who maybe need a friendly voice to tell them that it’s going to be okay. People who maybe won’t get help from mental health professionals, because their church group told them that doing so means that you don’t have enough faith. People who are scared to ask for prayers, because they don’t want to seem weak in front of their Christian community. People who, like me, refused to acknowledge it as a serious issue, and who maybe need to know that you can be full of faith and God still might choose not to heal you.
There will always be people out there who won’t understand that mental illness is an illness, not just something you can choose to get over. But there are also people who understand that Jesus came to comfort the weary and brokenhearted – as well as the anxious and depressed. Those people are the ones who you can lean on, who you can pray with and go to when you just need to cry and rest a while. And when you’re done, when you’re ready, those are the people who will help you get back on your feet and head back into the fight.
The road isn’t easy, my friends. But we don’t have to go through this alone. We here on the Anxious Introvert are here for you, and you are always in our prayers.
The Anxious Introvert