Mental Health & The Church

Sep 19, 2018

My view on mental health was so wrong for so long.  

  • I thought people who had panic attacks were making it up just to get attention.  
  • I thought people who said they wrestled with anxiety were not godly and more than likely were not praying and reading their Bible enough.  
  • I thought people who had to take depression medicine were weak and lacked faith…

…uh, yeah, I don’t think those things anymore.  

I can remember my very first panic attack like it was yesterday.  I was actually on stage preaching (it was a Christmas Eve service) and I could not stop thinking that someone was going to kill me…

…the thought raced to the completely illogical place of someone had poisoned me before I walked on stage…and my chest tightened, I could not control my breathing and began sweating profusely.  

I managed to walk off stage and had someone drive me home (thinking the whole time I was going to die.)  

Literally before I was about to dial 911 - I called a friend who I knew suffered from what he described as anxiety disorder (you know, the thing the “ungodly” struggled with) - and, after talking to me for a few minutes he assured me no one had poisoned me and I was not going to die.  

The panic attack caused me to think something was wrong with me spiritually (I mean, why else would I have had one.)  So, I began to read the Bible and pray more—and even tried listening to more “Christian music” than secular…

…however, over the next few months I could literally feel a darkness descending upon me and before I knew it I was in a full out battle with depression.  

When I say depression - I don’t mean, “The drive through line at Chic-fil-A is too long and I hate to wait” type of thing.  (I will conceded what some people call depression is nothing more than them not being pleased with circumstances in the moment.)  I’m talking about, “I hate living like this—and if this is how life is going to be I literally want to die…maybe I’ll just…”  

Yep, it was that bad!!  

And, after walking through one of the darkest seasons of my entire life - I gained a whole new perspective on mental health issues, one that is not as popular with some in the Christian community (especially those who say things like, “Don’t speak that over your life…” - the fact I was freaking molested when I was five, which began a traumatic sequence of events that led to my eventual battle with depression is not something I “spoke over myself” - it freaking happened.)  

Sure, I believe in the power of speaking positive things; however, if someone were to get shot - we would not say, “don’t speak that bullet wound over your life, just trust in Jesus to heal you!”  (Ok, some might…)  

We would do whatever it took to get them to the ER so they could get the treatment they desperately need.  

Anxiety, depression and general feelings of feeling overwhelmed are on the increase - and instead of making people feel guilty about it I think the church has an opportunity to step into it—and actually make a difference…

…the problem is, I feel like church leaders (myself included) are not equipped to handle many of these situations, and instead of admitting it try to cover deep emotional and spiritual issues in people with a Scripture passage and a prayer.  

Going back to the bullet wound - if you put a band aid on the bullet wound—but put a Bible verse on the band-aid, the person is STILL going to bleed to death!  It may look good for a moment or two…but it’s not the long term solution the world so desperately needs.  

“All people need is Jesus,” some say!  And, while I agree - I also strong believe that Jesus becomes real to people in many different ways - one of those ways being science.  

I mean, if all truth is God’s truth - and something is a scientific fact (not a theory) then it has to be categorized as common grace - God’s truth reveled to us all.  
And - the research on the brain, trauma and mental health over the past decade has been phenomenal - and for the church to ignore this is, at best - spiritual apathy and…at worse, spiritual abuse.  

So - how in the world does a person deal with mental illness?  

  • Pray?  Yep!  
  • Read the Bible?  Absolutely!  
  • Listen to worship music?  100%

However, a person should also be willing to seek the help of a well qualified counselor who knows how to deal with issues of trauma and anxiety!  And - here’s the kicker—doesn’t matter if they are Christian or not!

I know that is pure blasphemy to some (don’t worry - won’t be the first time I’ve been accused of it) - however, I can only rest on my personal experience here…and…both of the therapists who helped me the most with my trauma when I was in treatment were not Christians!  There was no  magic verse or four hour prayer times - but rather deep work that was extremely painful emotionally - but set me on a path towards healing unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  

One more thing before I finish - one of the reasons treatment was so effective for me is—it was a place where I could be 100% honest, with no judgment or shaming.  One of the biggest reasons many churches do not see emotionally sick people become well is because if the person were to confess the things they’ve done—or what’s been done to them—they would be kicked out, looked down upon and labeled as unspiritual.  

It takes an environment where a person can be fully known and fully loved for a person top truly experience healing - not a place where people feel like they can’t be real.  
If that’s how we are supposed to approach God—then that is the way we should be able to approach the church.  

If you wrestle with mental health issues and have been cast aside by the church - I apologize.  I can promise you that, in most cases, it’s because we (the church) did not understand.  

It’s my hope and prayer that as time progresses - so will the church in our understanding of this issue, and rather than seeing science as an enemy, see it as an ally and partner with it (rather than protesting it) so we can truly see people live in freedom.