I often feel very grateful to God that I have undergone fearful depression. I know the borders of despair and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone. But hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency.
A tendency to melancholy let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.
My last point, but definitely not least, from my thoughts on mental health is the idea that if a person deals with a mental illness it is:
3. An indication that the individual has a spiritual problem or not enough faith.
I have actually heard sermons and been in church services which indicated that those who were depressed or suffered from anxiety had a “spirit” of depression or anxiety. To me this type of statement seems to indicate that the illness was somehow due to a weakened spiritual state of the person. That the person had a choice in allowing some type of mental illness in occurring. The implication being that the mental illness would not have happened if the person would have been praying enough, reading the Bible enough, attending church enough, thinking of others first, etc.
Of course this line of thinking is incredibly flawed! It’s like saying a person has a “spirit of cancer or a spirit of a broken leg.” This sounds absolutely ludicrous….because it is!
Now is it possible for a person with a mental illness to not know God or need to grow spiritually? Certainly, we are all made up of a body, soul, spirit and all three are interconnected and impact the others. However, there may also be room for spiritual growth in someone who is overweight, has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., too! Just saying. So automatically putting those who have mental illnesses in a category of “not having enough faith,” not having a relationship with God, etc. is a false notion. Other types of illnesses are not usually labeled/categorized the way mental illnesses can be by some in the church.
Those within the church or religious groups are most certainly not called to make this type of judgment about others. At most, Christians are called to examine spiritual fruit in others. Do they show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? They honestly might! And maybe, just maybe, if the spiritual fruit isn’t there, it could be because the tree (or the person) needs to be nurtured and restored to health! Also, no one is perfect! We all have weaknesses God has to help us with. Just some thoughts here…
Some of the greatest Christian leaders of all time suffered from depression. Mother Teresa, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, and Abraham Lincoln are a few that come to mind. Were those individuals less than others because they carried the burden of a mental illness? I believe they were even more amazing because of it. The determination, strength, perseverance, depth of character, profound ability to love and empathize with others are just a tip of the iceberg in what made these individuals incredible. They were awesome not just in spite of, but because of their illness. Their weakness became their strength. To be sick and still shine, to lead, to love like they did, makes them seem like superheroes to me.
And to question whether or not they were close to God or had enough faith seems ridiculous. The fruit of the spirit in their life shows that. The fact that they persevered through life’s ups and downs despite the difficulties, is nothing short of amazing! God was definitely at work in the life of each of these individuals.
I guess this wraps up the thoughts I wanted to share on mental health perceptions. This topic is definitely something I feel pretty passionately about. One reason is due to the number of suicides I have personally known about. It breaks my heart that those who were struggling did not for whatever reason have the emotional/psychological support that they needed. It makes me sad to think it may have been because of a stigma that they didn’t reach out for help or others didn’t reach out to the person struggling. It is surprising and awful to me to hear it said “we didn’t know they were going through anything” or “if only someone knew.”
The stigma of mental illness needs to change. Mental illness is most definitely not an implication of an individual’s lack of faith. If anything, illness of any kind should cause those of faith to reach out, to be of service, and to offer compassion and love. We are called to love others as Christ did.
The people with very hard problems are understood by God. He knows what wretched machines they are trying to drive. Some day he will fling them away and give those people new ones; then they may astonish everyone, for they learned their driving in a hard school. Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last.