I don’t know about you but the shame that circulates mental illness breaks my heart.
“What do you mean by mental illness?”, some ask me.
As I explained in a previous post about depression,
Whether it be depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality or mood disorders, etc, mental illness is very much like a physical illness. Many people have a hard time coming to grips with mental health because the mind is less tangible.
This is also the reason why many people don’t get help or isolate their issues until they’re too distressed to pull themselves out. There are no scars or bleeding to show proof that something is wrong. Instead it may look like a dysfunction in mental processing. However, it’s all a common health issue just the same.
Just like a cold or virus, some mental illnesses happen for an episode, are treated and then never come back or rarely show up again.
Some mental illnesses are more chronic and ongoing, which is more complex to cure and has long-term, serious effects but still has the potential to be treated and managed over time.
Nevertheless, the best way we can make sure we’re in a healthy mental state and in the best place is to educate ourselves non-judgmentally on mental health.
First, we need a proper perspective.
We are bio-psycho-spiritual beings. We have biological factors. We have psychological factors. And at the core of it all is the spirit within us.
There are two perspectives I’ve seen that take an overgeneralized approach to mental health.
- The secular or humanistic view- Says that all we can address is what’s observable. Spirituality is only useful when it helps behavior. But for the most part mental health is about the chemicals in our brain, methods of therapy that have proven to work, and it’s all a science.
- The absolute spiritual view- Says that it is 100% a spiritual matter. People who think in these absolutes don’t consider the fact that God has also made us to operate within physical elements and that he uses people through practical skills to help others. Automatic stigmas, unfortunately, birth from this view such as mental illness being a demon or a lack of faith. This view ends up being more harmful and hurtful.
Here’s the problem with both views for the Christian:
The secular view doesn’t take the work of God into account. We know we are not just flesh and blood, but there are spirits and unseen principalities at work (Ephesians 6:12). It doesn’t equip us in spiritual warfare or address the ultimate remedy for our broken humanity and that is Jesus.
While this view isn’t so embracive to the sovereignty of God, it still has practical skills and reasonable logic to offer. To completely rule it out would be ignorant. Even if your doctor isn’t Christian, they know how to fix your broken leg because God has given us brains to use practical knowledge and common sense. We have to remember that God is the foundation of wisdom and He endows people with the gifts and knowledge for the benefit of humanity even if they don’t recognize it comes from Him.
The absolute spiritual view doesn’t have the balance of taking physical nature into account. We know that God can do miracles that supersede the natural. We know that prayer and deliverance can do a spiritual work in us that man can’t equate to in his own human limitations. However, there are times God also uses the physical for addressing the physical. There is a reason that Jesus became a physical man. There is a reason God used a physical sacrifice to atone our sins. Because sin entered the world through man (Romans 5:12), it needed to be taken out the same way it came in- through another physical man (Christ). It was both a physical and spiritual work that God used to remedy humanity. If God solely worked through the Spirit, there would be no need for Jesus to ever become man. So there must be a balance. There are still laws of nature that exist that even God works within.
The balanced, integrated view.
A proper perspective is one of the first big steps to overcoming stigma in the Christian community. That begins with holistic understanding. God heals through the Spirit. God also uses practical wisdom. He uses people. He can use medicine. He is not limited to operating in one way.
When someone struggles with mental health and their mind isn’t operating the way it should, it is the result of being human in a fallen world. Just like our bodies get sick, our minds can get sick. That could be because of genetics, trauma, biochemical imbalances or any other physical ailments. It’s not always a faith issue, though spiritual formation should be present. We do always want to bridge the gap between where we are and conforming more into the likeness of Christ. There’s a balance of addressing the physical nature while building spiritual character.
We’ve all struggled with some form of mental health, it just might not have been as extreme.
The truth is, we’ve all been a victim of some level of mental dysfunction. It’s a part of our humanity. Because we’re flawed, we don’t always think straight. We’ve all let the lens of insecurity, trauma, hurt, sadness and worry cloud our judgment and distort our mind. No one has perfect thinking.
The difference with severe mental illness is that it’s more extreme than usual and requires more help. It can become a perpetual state of mind. So before you judge someone’s faith based off of their mental health, realize that at some level you’ve been there too and no one is immune. For others, there may be many other outside factors such as genetics and trauma that have contributed to the severity, which you’re blessed to never have experienced.
We need a safe space where people are allowed to be broken without their faith being defined by it.
A person can face mental illness without being defined by it. Many people who struggle with mental health are mothers, fathers, students, professionals, community leaders, and more.
More importantly, by not allowing the dynamic of understanding that people are flawed and yet that’s not all they are, we make generalized judgments and stigmatize the very people God still has a plan to use. As those who claim to be in Christ, God forbid we not embrace the hurting among us. Here I talk more about the need for authentic community and why it’s okay to not be okay.
God will get the glory.
The prayer is always that God would just remove these mental ailments once and for all. But sometimes that’s not always the case. We need to be understanding of that. Remember Paul prayed 3 times for his affliction to be removed.
“But [The Lord’s] answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
In my personal experience and throughout the Bible we see there are many reasons God may call us to endure instead:
- It gives us the humility and compassion to connect with the hurting around us.
- It builds our spiritual strength and dependence on God.
- It shows others that though we are broken and flawed God can use anyone and becomes a witness of His power.
So be encouraged because struggling with mental health doesn’t make you any less Christian, it just makes you human. Fight the good fight of faith. Surround yourself with the support that has a proper perspective. And know that what you’re facing is no surprise to God. He still has plan for your life. He always did.
Resource: Christian Counseling & Therapy
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