In 1949, Congress passed legislation marking the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. The purpose of this month is to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with those who struggle with mental health issues. The term "mental health" is not found in Scripture, but it does encompass various aspects the Scriptures teach, including dealing with our emotions, thoughts, spiritual walk, and the suffering in our bodies.
Somehow in the church, there is often this strange belief that having faith in Jesus makes one immune from mental illness.
Somehow in the church, there is often this strange belief that having faith in Jesus makes one immune from mental illness. Some say that if our walk is close to God, we should not suffer from mental illness. Our prayers and our devotion to God should be enough, and if one does struggle with mental illness, their faith is weak, and they need to get closer to God...then they will no longer struggle.
Thankfully, these incorrect beliefs are starting to shift within the church. More and more pastors are admitting they suffer from anxiety and depression, and the mental health stigma is beginning to fade. Scientific studies on the brain have revealed physical differences in those with mental illnesses and trauma (whether cause or effect is in discussion). The rise of Biblical & Christian Counseling is shedding light on the impacts of trauma and how faith plays a role in the understanding of, suffering through, and even healing of mental illness.
While mental health challenges increased with COVID, mental health struggles began many years ago in Genesis 3 with the Fall. As a result of disobedience and declaring independence from God, suffering and death were introduced not only to the world but also to our bodies. From the Fall (Gen 3) come shame (10), deception and blame (12-13), physical pain (16), conflict with Satan (15) and amongst spouses (16), earth/environmental struggles (17-18), painful toil (17-19), death (19, 22), and separation from God (23-24). These consequences have since been passed on to every additional generation.
So what does this mean? It means our mental health struggles can be traced back to the Fall. Sin reaches every aspect of our personhood. Its damage to us is total. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, motivationally, and relationally--sin has damaged us. No one has dodged its scourge, and no one has been partially affected. Our bodies don't work as they ought to. Our hearts don't desire what they ought to. Our relationships aren't as peaceful as they ought to be. Our emotions (what we feel) aren't what they ought to be. Our minds don't work as they were originally designed to. We are a collective mess, but we are not beyond hope.
Since the Fall encompasses the physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional, addressing our mental health requires a holistic approach.
The impact of the Fall encompasses physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional struggles. Physical struggles involve the brain and body. Spiritual difficulties include our sinful nature and our relationship with God. Relational problems run rampant in our marriages and relationships with others. Our emotional hardships (including mental struggles) are less than ideal as the weight of guilt and shame, along with a variety of other emotions we experience in this broken world with broken bodies, also impact our lives. Since the Fall encompasses the physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional, addressing our mental health requires a holistic approach.
As embodied souls, any physical issues that may impact mental health should not be ignored but explored. Blood tests, health exams, eating habits, exercise routines, sleep habits or studies, medications, and vitamins ought to be considered and discussed with a physician. Exploring physical issues helps us understand how the Fall specifically impacts our bodies and lives, which is vital as we are all different. Discovering underlying physical problems may be significant in recovery, but solely addressing our mental health issues through physical health alone would be incomplete. Physical training has some value, but godliness has value in all things (I Tim 4:8).
Embracing God's Word will also significantly impact thought patterns, emotions, and relationships. His truths help us combat lies we are tempted to believe about ourselves, others, or even God. His grace empowers us to persevere in faith and sobriety and it instructs us to say no to ungodliness and be self-controlled (Titus 2:12). The Holy Spirit counsels us and interacts with our spirits to reveal truth to us and strengthen us in applying truth to our lives. Yet the understanding and application of God's Truth ought not to be made alone but within a community of believers.
Relationally, the community of believers can become a great support system where churches offer connection with like-minded people of faith. Bible studies, community groups, support groups, and prayer teams can provide the encouragement and accountability necessary for healing and personal growth. Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, influence people to withdraw from the community; however, that community helps those struggling with mental health to stretch themselves beyond their current struggles and to embrace a path of healing.
To address our mental health struggles, we must also address our thoughts and emotions.
To address our mental health struggles, we must also address our thoughts and emotions. What do we feel? How often do we feel this way? What do our feelings tell us about this situation? About ourselves? What emphasis is placed on our emotions? Are our feelings truth? Do our emotions control us? What are our thoughts? What conclusions are we making? Are they true (according to God's Word)? How often do we think these thoughts? What conclusions (or beliefs) do we have that are helpful or harmful? These are only some of the questions that must be addressed as we tackle mental health struggles. Often, these answers are best fleshed out with a Christ-centered counselor who can ask in-depth questions and compassionately challenge anything harmful or counter to God's Truth.
We can't explore the thoughts and emotions of a person without addressing the heart's desires or fears that motivate a person to do what they do, feel what they feel, or believe what they believe. Focusing on the heart's desires will impact the healing significantly as "out of the heart" our words and actions flow. A failure to address the heart would lead to behavior or sin management which is a temporary change, at best.
As a result of the Fall, every person will struggle with different physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual struggles. One person may have physical struggles, while another has mental or emotional struggles, or a combination of each. All are equally broken, yet each person's suffering is different on this side of heaven. Yet, in whatever struggles we have, God wants to reveal Himself to us and to others. He desires to show His mercy and grace to us in the midst of whatever struggles we may have, including our mental health struggles!
- Fred Jacoby, MA