For over a decade I lived thinking I suffered internal anguish because I just didn’t have enough faith in the power of prayer. However, in 2009 I sank into a deep depression and finally got to a breaking point. I was working with high school girls through CRU, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ–an international ministry focused on evangelism and discipleship. My director sat down with me and kindly explained that I was in no state to be mentoring young women. I needed to step away from field ministry and seek healing.
He was right. And for the first time I was broken enough to face myself and accept help. I was desperate.
It was the end of the school year and I was scheduled to spend the summer taking seminary classes with fellow staff members followed by the biannual all-staff conference. Two women were appointed to come alongside me in my darkness over that summer. As the summer went on I was encouraged to seek medical help and to find a Christian counselor.
After years of struggle, I finally found my way out of my depression and reconciled my brokenness before the Lord. I was freed from thinking I needed to be the perfect Christian to be happy and drew closer to the Lord.
In Part 1 of this series I discussed what the Bible says about illness and how mental illness plays into that, pointing to King David and Job as examples. Part 2 covers the distinction between mental health and mental illness, explaining how the Bible uses the word “anxiety” as an example. Here I will explore how to give and get help for mental illness.
How Can I Help Others?
If you do not suffer from mental illness, you are very fortunate. However, you do know someone who is suffering. Christians don’t talk about their mental illnesses because it often gets dismissed due to people’s misunderstanding of Scripture.
This dismissal needs to stop and you can help.
Talk to the people in your life who have mentioned struggles with depression or anxiety or OCD or some other diagnosis. Listen. The more you know about it the more you know how to support them.
Find out how they are being treated by medical professionals. If they aren’t getting professional help, encourage them to reach out to a certified Christian therapist who will help them understand their illness, learn positive coping mechanisms, and lean into God’s truth.
Encourage your friend or family member to be in fellowship with other believers, to stay in the Word, and seek the Lord through prayer. Often these practices are hard to do for someone struggling without help and encouragement. Help keep them accountable. Check in with them regularly, especially if you haven’t heard from them in a while.
I’ve had people in my life change their mindset about mental illness and Christianity because I am so open with them. They have been able to pray for me and support me in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. Not everyone will be confident enough to be vulnerable, but they will appreciate your openness to listen, try to understand, and receive empathy.
Be cautious about giving a “Christian” answer for a medical problem.
Read the Bible.
Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Have more faith.
Only praying and reading the Bible more dismisses the sufferer’s underlying issue. We all need to pray and read our Bible more for our mental and spiritual health. We all need to give our trials to the Lord. We all need to repent of our sins and forgive those who have sinned against us. These things help everyone’s mental health. Encouraging your friend or family member in this way is good, but this is not a cure for mental illness.
Having faith in God’s healing power is not always enough. God could cure me of my manic-depression, but He has chosen not to and I have found purpose in my pain. God could also cure a person of cancer. He doesn’t always. The uncured illness is not for lack of faith. But His will be done and He has His reasons. Pray with them, absolutely, and also encourage them to meet with a certified Christian mental health therapist to learn healthy coping mechanisms.
Invalidating someone’s illness by calling their struggle simply a spiritual problem allienates them from you, and potentially the church. Without that Christian community supporting them, they are at greater risk for becoming suicidal.
Having been allienated myself, I seriously considered the only way to relieve my misery was to die so I could be with Jesus. Christians take their own life because they believe being with Jesus in heaven will relieve their suffering. Christians take their own life because they are in so much pain and do not have the community and professional support they need to get through each day.
How Can I Get Help?
If you do suffer from mental illness, please get help. See your general physician (GP) or a psychiatrist. Your GP may be able to get you on the right medication but they may refer you to a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist specializes in mental illness and is often more equipped than your GP to get you on the right medications. Also start seeing a certified Christian mental health therapist to talk through your problems, discover the root of them, and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Don’t wait until you’ve hit rock bottom. I thought I had to be a certain level of brokenness to get help. I would have been much better off if I had accepted the offer years before.
Medication is not always the answer but keep your mind open to it. For some people medication can help you get through a hard season, then once you’ve found healthy coping mechanisms, you can work with your doctor to wean off of them. For other people, like me, medication is imperative. I would be a mess without medication. I’ve tried being medication free; it doesn’t work for me, and is honestly dangerous with my condition.
Talk therapy with a certified counselor is so important for digging into events that have triggered your symptoms or situations that might prompt them. Sometimes this exploration can help eliminate your symptoms altogether–you’ve made realizations about your life, have been able to come to a new understanding about them, and are able to move on. In some cases the burden will not go away but you can learn to prevent or manage symptoms. There are some great Christian counselors out there!
Guided prayer, or what I refer to as “listening prayer,” is another great way to approach your mental illness. This is NOT a substitute for medication and talk therapy. Sometimes prayer will be part of your therapist’s method. You might also look for someone in your church who is gifted in prayer to come alongside you. Learning how to pray through your symptoms is a great coping mechanism and I have had some great breakthroughs through prayer both with a prayer coach and on my own.
Lean into your Christian community. Find safe people who can support you in the hard times, to be a listening ear, or even to just sit with you. Having someone hold you accountable to seek God through prayer and the Word keeps you grounded spiritually.
Don’t give up.
There is help and hope for you.
You are not alone.
God has not forgotten you.
God is not done with you yet.
Where to get help:
- Start with your church. My prayer is that they are supportive and have recommendations for certified Christian mental health therapists. Many pastors and Christian leaders have been trained in “counseling” and this is a good thing, but it’s not a substitute for a certified therapist. Unfortunately, some churches will not be equipped to help you, but don’t give up!
- You know someone else with a mental health condition. Don’t be ashamed to ask around. I find the best therapists come with a recommendation from someone you know. The benefit in this is you may find a friend who is in the same boat and can empathize with you.
- In the age of COVID many tele-med counseling options have become available. They have you complete a questionnaire about your needs and preferences. They most likely have Christian counselors available. I do not have experience with this, but it is lower cost than someone in an office and, in my opinion, a good place to start. Do a quick google search and you will find good options. Here’s one that was recommended to me by a Christian insurance agent: https://ceyerahealth.com/ .