what christians get wrong about mental health.

There’s been a lot of talk about mental health in recent years, usually in reference to those dang millenniums and their diddly darn safe spaces.

To people who don’t understand, it seems like people with mental illnesses are just coming out of the woodwork.  Suddenly, there are all these people with self-proclaimed PTSD and anxiety and depression.  It doesn’t make sense to them.  It’s almost – almost – as if people are figuring out what’s wrong with them so that they can help.

And then people who don’t understand get all offended for some reason, as if that’s a bad thing.

Listen, I get both sides of the argument.  Completely.  But lately, I’ve been siding more with the people who are finally finding labels for the unknown monster that’s been plaguing them.  Because wouldn’t taking tests to find out if you have cancer be better than shoving down the symptoms and pretending like it isn’t there?

And yet people still keep denying it.  It’s almost as if they’re saying, “You don’t really have cancer.  You’re just overthinking things.  You need to be more chill.”

Now, I know that cancer is on a completely different plane than a mental illness.  But I think the reasons why the two should be treated differently are rapidly deteriorating.

A lot of Christians like to wave off the issue of mental illness with an admittedly well-intentioned “If you’re really suffering from (anxiety, depression, insomnia – you fill in the blank), pray and God will make it all better.”

There are two things wrong with this – first, that they’re ignoring a problem, and second, that they’re assuming that, if it’s a real problem, that God can just take it away.

Sure, God can take it away, but sometimes what even Christians forget is that God is not a vending machine, nor is He a wish-granting factory.  We don’t understand why He allows us to go through trials that He has the power to take away.  Sometimes it’s to better us, sometimes it’s simply to teach us how to rely on Him for strength.

And to assume that mental illness is something that God can and will just take away with a simple prayer is blatantly and horrifically wrong.

I can go into all the reasons why mental illnesses shouldn’t be ignored – from chemical imbalance to issues resulting from childhood trauma – but I’m sure you have people in your life who you can talk to, because the fact remains that one in five adults in the US suffer from a mental illness.  The statistic is the same for children, and for teenagers aged 13-18, the statistic is almost one in four.  (See NAMI’s statistics.)

Even if these statistics weren’t true, your response to your friends dictates how you actually feel about mental illness.  It’s one thing to lovingly care for your friends and ask what you can do to help – it’s a completely different thing to essentially tell them that they’re lying (excuse you?), that it’s “not that big of a deal” (just because it’s not a big deal to you doesn’t mean that it’s something they’re daily affected by), or that it’s “just in their head.”  (“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with people trying to find out what’s going on inside their heads.  How else would they figure out how to deal with it?

Instead of arguing with their findings, I’d challenge you to be a good friend and help them with whatever they’re going through.  After all, God loves us all equally despite all of the reasons we think He shouldn’t, so, since we’re called to be like Him, why should we act any differently?


21 thoughts on “what christians get wrong about mental health.

  1. I think that part of the problem is that people group normal human emotion (lets be real, who is really ever born sunny sally and how normal is it for teens to be balanced?!), emotional disturbance, spiritual disturbance, and actual mental disorders together. I understand there is overlap as some people move from normal to serious. But occasional depression isn’t the same thing as so ill you cannot think, have trouble breathing, etc. Some people are constitutionally more fearful or anxious just like some people are angrier than others (but that doesn’t make them sociopaths or whatever). That doesn’t give that person a mental illness. Also, over-medication (especially as a child and teen) can impair the development of adult brain habits and is often the lazy way out for care-givers/parents/etc. (and “preaching” is just be a lazy way out too). It DOES matter how one thinks and feels as it matters about some outside things.

    “Understanding” isn’t necessarily the issue. It CAN be. But sometimes it is DISAGREEMENT. Sometimes the people who dislike the societal direction HAVE the “issues” too because they are HUMAN and that is why they have some problems with the trends. We are missing nuance.

    As people have varying degrees of emotional disturbance (I dislike the mental health term; I think that is misleading and part of the issue, because while depression can be human, clinical depression is NOT normal), so do they have varying reasons. Like I mentioned, spiritual, emotional, even physical (your brain or your diet, and those are two VERY different things and causes). Some people are truly fully responsible for their own pain, some are partially, some are not at all. The same with everything else.

    The criticisers see only the people who want to feel no pain, no responsibility. The mental health people only see the people who don’t acknowledge anything. Everyone else is confused. However, I do think the trend is toward the mental health confusion.

    And there is the there is some indication that the problem is that mental illness epidemic (not stand alone mental illness) is a wealthy, pampered people’s problem. People in other destitute countries (or less well off in wealthier nations) I’m SURE have problems, but they cannot talk about it or think about it because they would starve. They cannot dwell on it. While we can push our emotional problems to more serious levels because we have the time.

    • Oh, and I wouldn’t generalize “Christians.” I’ve seen a lot about that with the purity and modesty and whatever. Because that is doing the exact same thing. I’d just point out the certain error. Two overgeneralizations (one reacting to the other) don’t make things right.

      Also back to those in error on mental illness. I know that immediately assuming and stating something is “sin” or “rebellion” sure isn’t going to help said “sinner” or “rebel.” And perhaps said “rebel” is rebelling for. a. reason. No matter what the cause, the person has to feel someone is “on their side” even if they don’t agree on issue or method. And that goes for anything. . . everything. Something I need to learn. Some of us were just born wanting to be right . . . and people who act like that hurt us (which should be a wake-up call.

  2. I agree with you, but I also do feel like there are a lot of people that are becoming aware that this is a problem and are addressing it 🙂 I have a lot of Christian friends who struggle with mental illness and stuff and the church has been good to them, cause that’s what we are supposed to be. Members of my family have depression and take medicines and the church has stood with them in support.

    I totally agree with what you said, but take heart. 🙂 It is getting better. It will continue to get better 🙂

    • I’m so glad that’s been your experience! I think people are slowly becoming more aware too, which is amazing, but there are still some out there who don’t get it. So glad for the people who are helping, though!!! And I completely agree – it will. 🙂

  3. Preach it sister! About a year or two ago, I realized that I had an anxiety disorder. I got the same reactions (not nice ones) you described. It was so good to find out what exactly was going on with me, to put a name to symptoms. It was really discouraging to be told I was being dramatic or overreacting. Thanks for this!

    • I’m so sorry! Let me know if I need to fight anyone for you. 😉 GOOD! So glad you were able to clear any confusion and I hope things are at least a little better now! Thanks for reading!

  4. I have allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the feelings about this.

    I’m not gonna say why, here–you know why, of course, and you’re awesome for listening to all my panic-ridden rants about it–but this a topic that is very close to my heart. And I love what you said about it. ❤

    "God is not a vending machine, nor is he a wish-granting factory." YES. THIS. God does not simply wave a magic wand and solve all our problems for us; whether those problems be physical or mental, practical or psychological. Nor do we have a right to expect Him to. Pain is part of what it means to be human . . . and that pain can take many forms; but Our Lord’s pain on the Cross was the greatest of all. He knows our sufferings, He has experienced our agony, and He is always with us, even when the whole world seems to go dark.

    Deep inside, I know for a fact that everything my family’s been going through lately has drawn me closer to Jesus. It’s hard to accept that’s what I needed–because it SUCKS–but that is, indeed, what I needed. And I will survive, and I will be stronger for it. I know that.

    Which is why I get sooooooooooooooooo angry when Christians try to dismiss or brush aside mental illness, almost like it’s something “unclean,” something that somehow marks you out as “less holy” or less of a child of God. Like . . . really? You think God didn’t know what He was doing when He decided to let this happen to us? YES, HE KNEW. He knows better than anyone else what His children are going through, and what His children need. And He will never abandon us, or ignore our suffering. If you want to call yourself a Christian . . . maybe you better start to do the same.

    Seems like an appropriate place to wind up with my all-time favorite Doctor Who quote; which, not-so-coincidentally, is about mental illness:

    “The way I see it, life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but at the same time, the bad things don’t cancel out the good things and make them unimportant.”

    *hugs for you b/c this post is awesome*

    • I know you do. 🙂

      EXACTLYYYY. And when we go through pain & don’t go to Him, that’s on us. Can’t get better if you don’t get help. The end.

      Amen. And I’m so sorry about what your family is going through, but I’m *so* glad it’s drawn you closer to God (and, hopefully, to each other). Always look for the silver lining because there’s always one. ❤

      YEPPPPPP. Wanna slap those people in the face with a Bible or a chair.

      YES. Love that quote. ❤

      *hugs back*

  5. Yes, yes, and yes! Unfortunately, Christians historically have a very bad reputation for acknowledging mental health issues so I’m thrilled to see this post. Yes, I get that mental illness – more specifically anxiety and depression – can be confusing at first for some Christians. (But but we’re supposed to be filled with the Joy Of The Lord so if you’re depressed, you mustn’t be trusting God enough, right?) As you said so beautifully, anxiety and depression can be caused by physical / environmental triggers such as chemical imbalance and childhood trauma (both of which led to my own anxiety and depression).
    It’s not wrong to suffer from mental health issues as a Christian. It doesn’t mean your faith isn’t strong enough. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most famous preacher’s and Godly men who lived, struggled heavily with depression much of His life. Sometimes God allows mental illness just as He allows physical illness in our lives. Also, it is COMPLETELY APPROPRIATE to seek help from a professional and also to take medication for mental health. Sure, depression is different from cancer but so is diabetes or liver disease. They’re still illnesses, ie conditions affecting our health!
    I avoided admitting I’d had depression for a while, not wanting to label myself and because mental illness does still carry a stigma. However, once I finally acknowledged it, I actually found it so freeing. When I suffered mentally, I could turn around and tell myself, “That’s not me thinking that, that’s the depression and I don’t have to believe it.” Seriously empowering!
    Thanks for raising awareness, Ashley!

    • I completely agree – hence the post. (And YES. Can we get rid of that assumption??? NEWSFLASH: IT’S PERFECTLY FINE TO HAVE BAD DAYS. JUST DON’T STAY THERE.) Yep. Legit same.

      YEP. Yep, yep, yep.

      Legitimately same. Exactly, and that’s what’s so wonderful about people finally finding out what’s wrong with them, because it’s no longer just in their head – it’s REAL.

      Thanks for the work you’re doing, too!

  6. While I don’t have much contact with mentally ill people per se, my dad suffered something similar in his battle with cancer, becoming increasingly forgetful and just…different, personality-wise. It was difficult to see.

    Mental illness is DEFINITELY not something that should be ignored or shoved away, though I do think there are some fakers out there, just as there with physical sicknesses.

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