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In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2019). This means either yourself or someone you know has experienced mental health issues. Therefore, it is obvious Christians are not bypassed when it comes to the experience of mental health issues. The daily living mental health battles are very real for many Christians. Although similarities in the overall experience of mental health issues exists between Christians and Non- Christians, Christians do face unique challenges which can hinder their progress or help their progress towards managing and improving their mental health.
When it comes to experiencing mental health issues something all people face is stigma. The Canadian Association of Mental Health says fear and misunderstanding often lead to prejudice against people with mental illness and addictions. Although it seems there are more campaigns in communities designed to decrease stigma and increase awareness about daily life challenges experienced by people who have mental health issues, the stigma surrounding persons who have mental health issues still exists. Unfortunately, education about mental health does not alter the thoughts and perceptions of all people in society and, therefore, stigma may always be a challenge faced by people experiencing mental health problems.
With regard to stigma, in contrast to non-believers, Christians may face a unique challenge. According to Pastor Stephen Altrogge in his article entitled “Is Mental Illness Considered Biblical?”, in the Christian world there are some people who believe mental health issues are not biblical. He explains the belief, for example, that being depressed is just the feeling of sadness and medical treatment defies the power of God to be sufficient in meeting your every need. Medical treatment for mental health issues is thought of as just a man made solution to a spiritual problem. Therefore, Christians feeling this stigma within their Christian circles will experience increased feelings of hopelessness, shame and this thinking can create a serious barrier for Christians to reach out for help and impact prompt diagnosis and treatment. Pastor Altrogge states, “If we’re going to effectively care for fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, we need to recognize that mental illness is a real thing. We aren’t only souls. Rather, we are a complex composition of soul and body. Let’s make sure we address both the soul and the body.”
Spiritual Battle: A Closer Look
Mental illness is real and requires medical help just like any physical illness, but spiritual battles do exist and cannot be ignored. Someone once said to me, “Just as there is a positive and uplifting supernatural power supporting us and rooting for us on earth, we cannot forget there is also a negative supernatural power which exists to work against Gods plan for your life, to tear you down and destroy your destiny.” These words rang true to me and I am reminded of them every time depression creeps into my life. I am reminded not to forget the spiritual battle that do exist between good and evil in every facet of our daily lives. In order to examine all things which can be influencing our mental health, we cannot leave out examining the fact a spiritual battle may be happening and influencing your thoughts in a negative and mind altering way.
– John 10:10
If you are a Christian and are working diligently for God, you can be rest assured you will experience spiritual battles in your life as the enemy seeks to steal your joy and give you mental unrest.
If you are a Christian and are working diligently for God, you can be rest assured you will experience spiritual battles in your life as the enemy seeks to steal your joy and give you mental unrest. – Ephesians 6:12
Excessive and persistent negative thoughts and emotions is definitely a way the enemy can attack and try to stop you in your tracks. In the book “Battlefield of the Mind” by well known author Joyce Meyer, she says “The devil is a liar…He lies to you and me. He tells us things about ourselves, about other people and about circumstances that are just not true.”
The Christian awareness of how the enemy can attack our mind and affect our thoughts prompts us to reflect on this fact in times of mental unrest. This exploration and reflection helps the believer progress toward improving their mental health status. Many people who are not in tune spiritually may never realize the possibility of a supernatural battle existing in their life and hence do not spend the time reflecting and taking action against it.
Spiritual Battle: Fighting Back
How do Christians know if the negative thoughts and feelings experienced could be due to spiritual warefare? The answer to this lies with spiritual intuition provided by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual decernment through teachings of the Lord and through the work of the Holy Spirit helps Christians recognize and respond appropriately to situations which are not of God and, therefore, distinguish good from evil.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil- Hebrews 5:14
This scripture teaches that just like a child develops to the point where they can eat solid food, Christian’s also develop and mature to be able to better distinguish good from evil with learning and practice. For example, in my experience living with depression, I have experienced attacks which, based on reflection, has been due to spiritual warfare. When I am on a roll for Christ by moving deeper in the Word, following God’s leading, and working on His behalf through different initiatives both inside and outside the church, I will experience an attack of the enemy -Guaranteed. I may not recognize it immediately, but when the realization does come, I immediately get to work to take back control of my thoughts and my mind. You see the enemy knows your every weakness and, in my situation, the knowledge my mental health is vulnerable to attack places it in the enemies direct line of fire. For me, in the beginning of my Christian experience with spiritual warefare, it would make me pull away from God because of how uncomfortable the push back from the dark side would make me feel. But through guidance from my pastors and through my own reading and research, I have learned steps to take to overcome enemy attack, put the devil in his place, and gain control of my emotions and thoughts. His intimidation tactics no longer keep me from moving forward in Christ because over time, through maturity and practice, I have learned to identify what’s happening, ways to push back and overcome the devils strongholds in my mind. Freedom from attack may not happen over night, but it happens just the same with persistence and when you come out the other side, the victory is glorious as the experience moves you closer to God and you grow further in your Christian walk.
Spiritual Battle: Weapons of Attack
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteouysness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6: 13-17
This scripture reminds us to focus on your salvation, your faith, Gods promises and His truths located in His Word, and use them as weapons of attack. In my experience, starting with prayer and a frank discussion with God about your thoughts and feelings followed by asking Him to intervene to assist you in overcoming your negative thoughts and negative emotions has to be the starting point. From there focusing on the truths and promises of God, listening to and singing worship songs either in my mind or out loud, are ways I use to fight my battles. Writing has also become my new outlet. Here are some uplifting scriptures great for meditation and reflection to help cast down every negative thought and bring them into alignment with Jesus Christ:
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak -Isaiah 40:29
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand -Isaiah 41:10
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD – Isaiah 54:17
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future-Jeremiah 29:11
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go -Joshua 1:9
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? -Psalm 27:1
There are many powerful and uplifting scriptures which can help remind you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you have a father who loves you unconditionally, and He is there with you at all times to help you win your battles and to strengthen and encourage you. The more you meditate on His Word the more you will be able to draw upon its strength it provides in times of trouble. Joyce Meyer said in her book, mentioned earlier, “Truth is one of the most powerful weapons against the kingdom of darkness. Truth is light, and the Bible says that darkness has never overpowered the light, and it never will. Satan wants to keep things hidden in darkness, but the Holy Spirit wants to bring them into the light and deal with them, so you and I can be truly and genuinely free.”
Supporting Christians. With Mental Health Issues: Suggestions for Support Persons
From my experience living with depression and experiencing cycles of depression for many years, I am going to share with you a few of my thoughts about how to best help a person who comes to you to open up and talk about their struggles. This is the strategy I have found most helpful:
- Develop Rapport: Instead of jumping right in and offering solutions, get to know the person and develop rapport. This will foster trust in the relationship and then the person, when you do start discussing solutions, will be more receptive to hearing them and will be more likely to follow through with suggestions. To develop rapport let the person know they are safe talking to you, you are interested in hearing all about everything which is bothering them and you are open to helping them figure out the next steps. Make sure when you talk you are in an environment where there are no distractions which can interrupt conversation and you have the time to sit, be attentive, and listen.
- Speak Truth into the Conversation: While you are actively listening to conversation, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you with the right words to say to speak truth into their life. Sometimes a person will need to be reminded: what they are feeling is ok, you are glad they reached out, no one on earth is free from facing challenges, and no matter what they are facing God loves them unconditionally and offers them redemption and forgiveness and help. If you are led to pray at any point during the conversation, do it. Follow your leading.
- Do not cause feeling of shame and guilt: In conversation with a person during the first 2 steps described above, it is imperative not to ask the questions: How is your prayer life lately? Have you been spending time with God? Have you been reading your bible lately? or make statements like: I noticed you haven’t been in church the last couple of Sundays, you know that not going to church is not a good coping strategy right? When someone is in a crisis situation which has prompted them to talk, the last thing you want to do is make them question their Christian walk and dredge up more shame and guilt. If this is a mental health issue like depression, for example, there may very well be well be well researched motivational issues affecting the persons ability to participate the way they would like in church, in their devotions, and in their prayer life so asking these questions does not help the persons self-esteem or their Christian walk. But encouraging the person to come to church for prayer and support the upcoming Sunday is a great approach in helping to motivate a person to stay connected to church and to God.
- Help them determine next steps: Once conversation has happened as suggested above, helping someone determine next steps might be a simple question, “So, what do you feel like your next steps should be?” People often jump into telling people what they think they should do instead of letting the Holy Spirit work through the conversation to give the person insight into what the next step in their journey should be. Often times, people will make their own plans for their next step and all you have to do is support their choice or help them to think more about the choices they are making if you feel they may not be headed in the right direction. Open ended questions like, “If you do x, do you think it will help you get to where you need to be? Or do you think Y might be a better approach?” Actively engage the person in their own problem-solving and finding their own solutions providing guidance and encouragement to help the process.
- End in Prayer: Close conversation in prayer thanking God for his intervention, and asking him to bless the plan chosen. If you feel like you should meet again and the feeling is mutual, then make plans to meet again.
Obviously, conversations may not go this smoothly depending on the situation you find yourself in. But for someone who is not suicidal, who has insight into their situation, and can be helped to come up with a rational next step on their journey, then this approach my be helpful. It is the approach I found most useful when I needed help and reached out to asked for assistance when I needed it over the past 6 years since becoming Christian.
Supporting Yourself When You Are going Through Deep Waters
As someone who is living with a mental illness, I know what it feels like and for all skeptics out there- its REAL. If you are reading this and are going through deep waters my friend, I want you to know you are not alone! I want you to know you have a Heavenly Father who loves you. I want you to know that, although it may not feel like it, what you are going through is temporary and you WILL get through this bump in the road.
Dear Friend, this is what I have come to realize on my journey and I feel in my spirit you should know this today:
- It’s ok to say “No”
- It’s ok to set healthy boundaries- whatever that may look like for you
- It’s ok not to feel ok
- It’s ok not to be perfect
- It’s ok to ask for help
- It’s ok to seek medical attention- mental health is real and medical advice IS needed
- It’s ok to seek professional counselling- I have had counselling many times throughout my 17 year illness. Research shows a combination of counselling and medical treatment is the best combination in treating mental health issues. Find yourself a good Christian counsellor who can provide the Christian insight and truth you need to help you on your journey
In conclusion, the mental health illness experience is Real and Christians are not exempt in this life from experiencing challenges to their mental health. Christians need to seek medical advice, get medical treatment, but at the same time be aware spiritual battles do exist. Christians need to consider the possibility they could be facing a spiritual battle and, in combination with medical treatment, examine and reflect on this truth either themselves or with the help of a Pastor or Christian counsellor. Christians also need the right peer support to help them find the right spirit led direction without the relationship leading to the exacerbation of feelings of shame and guilt.
My prayer today is this post has blessed someone. If you feel this is important information to share to shed light on Christianity and Mental Health and to help Christians who may be experiencing challenges, please share.
Canadian Association of Mental Health (2019). Addressing Stigma. Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/addressing-stigma
Canadian Association of Mental Health (2019). Addressing Stigma. Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/addressing-stigma
Pastor Steven Altrogge. Is Mental Health Considered Biblical? Retrieved from: https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/stephen-altrogge/is-mental-illness-actually-biblical.html
Meyer, Joyce (1995). Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in your Mind. New York, NY: updated FaithWords Edition 2011