illnessIn this week’s edition of Self-Care Sunday, I’ll address the Christian’s response to mental Illness.

Mental Illness is NOT a Spiritual Problem

Depression. Anxiety. Schizophrenia. Bipolar Disorder. Alzheimer’s. Anorexia. Binge Eating. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The list goes on. Physicians and mental health experts have classified over 200 forms of mental illness. It stands to reason that someone you know has a mental illness. That illness may or may not be diagnosed.

If you suffer from a mental illness, and feel that the Christian community has marginalized, misunderstood, or mistreated you. I apologize. My own ignorance about mental health issues and the unkind ways I acted in the past make me bow my head in shame. I want to share what I’ve learned with others so that we can all start doing our part to stop the stigma.

The month of May marks another Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Campaigns like #StoptheStigma have helped bring awareness to others that mental illness should carry no shame.

A diagnosis serves as a starting point for treatment, healing, and management, just like a diagnosis of cancer or diabetes serves as a starting point for treatment, healing, and management.

Unfortunately, while the secular world seems to receive the message, the Christian world lags behind. Christians balk at treatment, medication, and counseling. When a fellow Christian confides dark thoughts of suicide or self-harm, believers end up tongue-tied. Or worse, they offer to pray for the person or counsel them to ramp up their relationship with Jesus.

Mental illness is NOT a spiritual problem. #MentalHealthAwareness #mentalillness #depression #anxiety #suicide #bipolar Click To Tweet

Jesus can (and should) be part of the solution, but he is never part of the problem. Nor does your relationship (or lack thereof) with God cause a mental illness.

Physical Illness vs. Mental Illness

Mental illness is NOT a spiritual problem. Learn how to handle someone's disclosure without harming them. #mentalillness #mentalhealthawarenessThe mind is a beautiful and complicated organ that can get sick, just like your kidneys might get sick. Of course, when you get a kidney infection, antibiotics often cure the sickness. They don’t make antibiotics for mental illness.

But when someone gets a kidney infection or ends up having kidney failure, we don’t blame the patient. Likewise, when someone receives a mental illness diagnosis, we shouldn’t blame the patient.

If a friend revealed that they had received a cancer diagnosis, would you offer to pray for them and tell them they need to spend more time in prayer—and leave it at that? NO!

Yes, you would pray with them and for them. But I bet you’d never pray this prayer:

“Father God, Jim suffers from cancer. I pray that you give him strength to fight this battle and make sure he knows the importance of staying close to you as the cancer ravages his body.”

You would ask Jim about his treatment. He might even share what kind of chemotherapy or radiation regimen his doctors have prescribed. As his hair falls out and his appetite fails, you would buy him cool hats and bring him tempting things to eat. You would pray with him, take long walks with him, and celebrate when his blood counts improve.

In other words, you would come alongside him in his suffering. Good friends don’t drop by to suggest alternative therapies like carrot juice enemas, shark cartilage smoothies, or ‘this really good place in Mexico.’ They honor their friend’s intelligence and ability to investigate and make good decisions. Offering advice only when asked, they know how to help rather than manage.

The Tricky Part of Mental Illness

They physical side effects of cancer act as a badge that the sufferer has joined the battle against the dread disease. The baldness and frailty let strangers know to handle the sick one with care and prayers.

The side effects of mental illness don’t shout the same message. In fact, the side effects tend to alienate family and friends. Instead of hair loss, someone with a mental illness may experience weight gain. Rather than a look of frailty, someone with a mental illness may take on an I-can-do-anything-don’t-try-to-stop-me attitude. Instead of exhaustion, we might see quickly cycling moods that leave us feeling whiplashed. Rather than appearing in danger of breaking, a person with a mental illness may put themselves in danger through risky behavior that seems reasonable to them.

As Christians, we can handle cancer or kidney failure—but we do an abysmal job of coming alongside those who suffer from mental illness. I include my former self in this category. Before mental illness exploded like a meteorite in our family, I had no idea.

So, let me break it down for, Brothers and Sisters. Mental illness is NOT a sign of spirituality or lack thereof. People with mental illnesses are victims of an illness—NOT weak Christians.

They need help, but your self-righteous I’ve-got-this-together-why-can’t-you-act-like-me attitude makes it difficult for them to seek it. Furthermore, your self-righteous attitude drives wedges between the one who suffers and the God who loves them.

Your self-righteous attitude drives a wedge between those who suffer and the God who loves them! #Christian #MentalHealthAwareness #anxiety #depression Click To Tweet

When they come to you for help, they don’t really have the words to express what goes on in their minds. They hope you may understand and tell them they should seek help. When all you do is offer to pray for them, they walk away feeling burdened and belittled.

Don’t Mess it up!

A person with a mental illness already feels guilty enough (the devil loves to beat us when we’re down) for their behavior. Don’t add to their guilt. Mental illnesses often manifest themselves in extremes.

Just because a person seems incredibly righteous and vigilant in making sure that others toe the line, doesn’t mean that they have immunity from mental illness. In fact, unreasonably devout people may actual be exhibiting signs of mania. Likewise, just because a person gets drunk, acts promiscuously, or uses drugs doesn’t mean they have rejected their faith. It means their brain has gone haywire and things don’t make sense.

I confess I used to judge people who seemed righteously religious as being ‘good’ and ‘wonderful Christians.’ The people who struggled with drugs and alcohol and behavior I couldn’t endorse I termed, ‘fallen,’ and ‘in need of a Savior.’ In reality, they needed my compassion and friendship. They needed me to keep my mouth shut and my heart open. My prayers may have helped, but my willingness to listen and not judge would have helped them sooner.

People disclosing a mental illness need you to keep your mouth shut and your heart open. #MentalHealthAwareness Click To Tweet

How to Handle Disclosure

If someone discloses a mental illness to you (or that they struggle with anxiety, depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts), here’s what you need to do:

1. Listen

While you listen, keep your face filled with compassion. Pray—but silently, for wisdom and that the Holy Spirit guide your words and thoughts.

2. Ask questions.

Good ones to ask:
“What would you like me to do?”
“How can I help you?”
“Would you like me to help you find a doctor?”
“Do you have a plan for harming/killing yourself.” (If the answer is ‘Yes,’ skip to number five!)

3. Assure them that they aren’t crazy.

They probably already realize that something in their mind doesn’t work like other people’s minds. People who suffer need to know that illnesses have cures and remedies. They aren’t less than others because their mind processes information differently.

4. Share.

IF you have suffered from a mental illness and have found help through therapy, medication, AND healing in your relationship with God—go ahead and let the person know that they aren’t alone.

IF you suffered from depression or anxiety and were able to find healing on your own through reading wise counsel and self-help books—that’s awesome! But since you’re NOT a licensed counselor or psychiatrist, it’s safer to refer your friend to an expert and offer prayer support on the sidelines.

Some cancers can be cured with low-level, homeopathic treatments—but others call for an all-out chemo or radiation battle. Don’t judge someone else’s battle based on your own.

Don't judge someone else's battle by your own. #MentalHealthAwareness #mentalillness #stopthestigma Click To Tweet

Don’t disclose that your neighbor’s brother’s ex-sister-in-law felt the same way and committed suicide/struggled for years/never got help.

5. Take them seriously.

If they have a plan or have researched ways to kill themselves, take them to the hospital immediately. You may need to enlist help from someone else.

If someone shares that they cut themselves or have panic attacks or feel depressed. Take them seriously. Don’t just tell them you will pray for them. They disclosed this to you because they hope that you will understand and listen and help them take the next step.

Remember, when someone discloses that they struggle, your job is to listen, ask, assure, share (if appropriate), and take (them seriously or to a hospital). What they really want is affirmation from you that they have a problem, and assurance that someone out there can help them solve it. An offer to go with them to an appointment counts for more than an offer of prayer.

Just think of the acronym LAAST. The last thing you want to do is cause more harm. You should talk last, listen first.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit our other #InspireMeMonday host site over at Blessed (but Stressed)!

A bonus for you!

Subscribe to receive weekly reminders about the Inspire Me Monday Link up, and I'll send you Ten Quick Ways to Make Your Blog Better.

Powered by ConvertKit
 Loading InLinkz ...
Mental illness is NOT a spiritual problem. Learn how to handle someone's disclosure without harming them. #mentalillness #mentalhealthawareness

14 Comments

  1. Dear Anita … I so appreciate that you go here because there’s few of us who aren’t being impacted by someone’s brain health challenges.

    Yes, yes to offering a safe and open haven to each other, to our family members, to those in our communities. I know for sure that mental illness quickly becomes a family situation, and those who love someone with brain health challenges need to work extra hard on keeping healthy ourselves.

    Their stories are not ours to tell, but they rock us to the core all the same.

    Bless you …
    Linda Stoll recently posted…The Underbelly of Blogging * Misplaced FocusMy Profile

  2. “Talk last, listen first.” The best suggestion for us all. I have so appreciated this entire month of posts. May we remember to keep a confidence, their story is not ours to tell but to hold safe. Blessings!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…Encouragement & GrowthMy Profile

  3. I think mental illness is a spiritual problem but as with all illnesses, there’s more than one cure. Jesus healed many that were mentally ill – the man with the demons, the boy who had a spirit. Because mental illness is not as direct as a physical illness we don’t know how to deal with it and this is where your post comes in. As an aside, I’m not saying all mental illness show up as demon possession.

    Thanks for sharing.
    nylse recently posted…The Mentors We Need as MothersMy Profile

  4. Once again this is great advice, Anita! Thanks for all you’re doing to raise awareness and to help equip people to support those who are struggling around them.
    Lesley recently posted…Join The Song!My Profile

  5. It’s so true that we never dismiss a physical illness, yet don’t always consider mental illnesses as just as real and debilitating, Anita. I’m so grateful that you have been sharing freely about mental illness. It has been a very practical and powerful series, for which I am learning so much and pinning to my mental illness board! Thanks, my friend, for the linkup and for your wisdom and insight!
    Beth recently posted…Comment on God’s Word is Worthy to be Studied Video by Worthy | Luke 7:39My Profile

  6. Dear Anita, from the heart of one who has been affected by mental illness personally and through family members, THANK YOU! I pray that many consider and apply your candid and wise counsel. It truly could change the life of someone they know.

  7. You preach, Anita! –> “Mental illness is NOT a sign of spirituality or lack thereof. People with mental illnesses are victims of an illness—NOT weak Christians.” Amen. No one should have to feel guilty and shame on top of what they’re already going through.
    Lisa notes recently posted…7 Books I Recommend – May 2018My Profile

  8. I think this is a great post, though I pray for people who ask with depression, I regularly refer them to Dr. Michelle Bengston’s site. People will though, often battle their demons alone, thinking they aren’t a good enough Christian, we don’t need ever disqualify ourselves or them. People in a fragile state of mind are not always thinking of how the sower sows the Word and the enemy comes to snatch it away. It is best to cover them in prayer and sow the love. But I have to say I have seen turn arounds by receiving and using a prayer language, that also has to be received by someone who understands the spiritual gift. It’s like teaching college courses to kindergartners. Sometimes, singing Jesus loves just works for us all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

You may also like

Follow Me!