Can Christians Struggle with Mental Illness?

To my greatly blessed, highly favoured and deeply loved sisters,

I wish the church would have a better understanding of mental health. As I listen to those around me, there seems to be two perspectives on Christians and mental health: on the one hand, there are those of us who believe that Christians cannot suffer from mental health; on the other hand, there are those who believe that mental health issues must by definition be severe, such that medical or professional intervention is needed.

My dear friends, I would like to offer you a different perspective to consider. We all struggle with mental health issues at some points of our lives. Some of us may suffer from severe mental health issues which require professional help, while some may suffer from milder forms that we are able to tide through with the resources we already have. Mental health is a part of who we are as human beings. It is not a new phenomenon; it is normal. We can embrace mental health challenges and cope with them healthily.

Who are we?
Mental health is part of the health of our whole being. We may think that our body and mind are separate, but when one is affected, our whole being is affected. Consider this example: you are stressed and busy rushing deadlines, so you cannot sleep well. You cannot sleep well, so you are grumpy and moody the next day. You are grumpy and moody, so you cannot have good, wholesome conversations and snap at your closest ones. You do not resolve this, so you feel guilty in addition to stressed and grumpy. Our mental health affects our physical body, and vice versa. The relationship between mind and body is deeply intertwined, like a tightly entangled ball of knitting wool.

MENTAL HEALTH IS PART OF THE HEALTH OF OUR WHOLE BEING.

The Bible tells us that the human being is a unified being. Genesis 2:7 explains it best — God made man from the dust of the ground, so he has a physical body, and gave him the breath of life, so he has an inner self. This is why man is a “living being” who is more than simply flesh or spirit. Our different parts are not isolated. As you have seen in the example above, the smallest disruption has an effect on our whole being. This disruption is like a tiny pebble causing large ripples when dropped into still waters.

Who suffers from poor mental health?
My friends, to say that a Christian cannot suffer from poor mental health is disregarding reality. Just because mental health is intangible does not mean it is non-existent. Let me remind you that Christian or not, we all suffer. We all go through bad times, and just as we can fall ill physically, we can also fall ill mentally. In Genesis 3, we learn about the Fall, sin, and its effects. Christ is our Saviour and Redeemer, but the consequences of sin on the world means that we who are in this broken and imperfect world still suffer. No one is immune to mental health suffering, not even Christians.

Reading the biblical accounts of Elijah and Jeremiah, and the biographies of Martin Luther and John Sung, we can guess that they probably suffered from poor mental health. They did not receive a medical diagnosis based on empirical data, like they might today, but from these written accounts, we can sense that they underwent tremendous mental suffering. Yet, they served God faithfully. My dear friends, if even such influential worshippers of God may have suffered from poor mental health, surely we too may suffer.

NO ONE IS IMMUNE TO MENTAL HEALTH SUFFERING, NOT EVEN CHRISTIANS.

Why do we suffer?
Mental health is not straightforward. There could be a host of reasons for poor mental health. Given its complexity, it is too simplistic to claim a single root cause. I wish it were straightforward, so it would be easy to eliminate the cause and then the symptoms. But it is not. Poor mental health could be a result of a myriad of factors — both internal and external.

Biological factors like a genetic predisposition to addiction could lead to mental health issues. Psychological factors, such as the intense stress of witnessing a loved one die in a car accident, gives rise to a possibility of falling into post-traumatic stress disorder. Social factors like emotionally neglectful parents may lead to poor self-esteem. Possible spiritual elements, such as disobedience to God, may cause extreme anxiety. You could find yourself dealing with one factor or all of them!

I also wonder about some concerns that young women may have these days that contribute to poor mental health. Some of us have social media anxiety from TikTok or Instagram. Some of us may be victims of sexual assault — afterwards, we cannot understand why we feel so light-headed and short of breath from certain smells and sounds; we even feel guilty and hate ourselves. Some of us struggle with our bodies — we cannot look in the mirror because the sight of our body causes us so much distress that we want to reject our very existence. Some of us may wrestle with pornography — we do not understand why there is a desire to keep watching it even after confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness. Some of us silently grapple with the idea of God as Father — our own earthly fathers have abandoned us, so we do not know what having a father feels like.

While some of us are able to cope healthily, some of us need additional help. It is akin to falling physically ill. A handful of us recover from a cold just with some rest, but a few of us will need to visit a doctor and take medication. If I may push the analogy further; if you would see a doctor for your physical health, why would you not seek help from others for mental health? This could be a mature friend, parent, youth leader, pastor, or in some situations, a trained clinical counsellor. There is nothing shameful or wrong about asking for help. When you allow trustworthy people to walk with you, you are taking charge; you are being courageous in facing your wounds and starting the healing process.

IF YOU WOULD SEE A DOCTOR FOR YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH, WHY WOULD YOU NOT SEEK HELP FROM OTHERS FOR MENTAL HEALTH?

Who do we have?
My dear friends, in our darkest valleys and coldest nights, it may seem that God has abandoned us. Yet, even as you lament to God and wrestle with these deep wounds, remember that God is a God who loves you more than you can imagine. God has shown His faithfulness throughout time and in every place from our spiritual forefathers and through all of church history. How comforting to hear that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also our own God. God has given us the Holy Spirit to comfort us. God has also given us resources like that mature friend, youth leader, pastor, or counsellor to walk with you. Remember, you are greatly blessed, highly favoured and deeply loved.

Psalm 27:13-14
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Melissa Tee
Melissa is a counsellor-in-training. As a first-generation Singaporean who was born in New Zealand to Malaysian parents, she's discovered she qualifies as a ‘third culture kid’!

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