Mental health misconceptions among Christians need to be addressed

Stigma and a lack of understanding of mental health issues have caused harm to believers.

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Mental health misconceptions among Christians need to be addressed

Courtesy of www.pexels.com

Courtesy of www.pexels.com

Courtesy of www.pexels.com

Adam Pigott, Freelance Writer

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Two weeks ago, Jarrid Wilson, an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, died by suicide. Since then, the discussion of mental health among Christians has become more prominent than before. Two years before his death, Wilson was interviewed on a podcast hosted by the Christian website, Church Leaders, where he explained his struggle with mental health and the stigmatization of mental health in the church.

“The only way you can destigmatize something is for you to talk about it,” Wilson said in the podcast. “I do not need pastors to experience depression or a mental health disorder to talk about it. I just need them to be aware of it and address it from the pulpit. They need to let potentially suffering members know that it is okay, that we are broken people and that we all have struggles.”

Unfortunately, mental illness is not talked about enough. According to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research, 66% of senior Protestant pastors hardly discuss mental health with their congregation. Almost a quarter of pastors are hesitant to help suffering members because of the amount of time it takes. Misunderstandings occur when something is rarely discussed.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Back in July, a friend of mine reached out to tell me that she was considering taking anxiety medication. As someone who has struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, I completely understood and supported this idea. Medications are a crucial step in treating mental illnesses, and no one should be ashamed of using them. I was devastated when I learned of her hesitation because she thought she could beat the anxiety if only she walked well enough with God. Taking medications and receiving therapy does not at all mean that a person does not trust Christ. Romans 8:28 is correct when it says that all things work together for the good of those who love Christ, but that does not mean that the process will look the way some of us might expect.

CHANGE IS NOT ALWAYS MIRACULOUS

While it is true that God can work in miraculous ways, miracles are not always the way change occurs. In “Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith,” authors Donald J. Tellinghuisen and Paul explain with an example, in which a Christian man throws himself off a bridge into the water, believing that God would save him. Three different times, someone offered their help to him, but he turned it down every time.

He eventually drowned and when he saw God, he asked why he did not save him. God’s response was that he tried three times and that it was through those that offered their help. In this case, God was working in worldly ways. When it comes to mental health, this can include therapists and counselors. Christians suffering from mental illness need to trust that these people are trying to help.

SEEK HELP

Mental illnesses may not be visible, but they are just as real as physical ailments. With that in mind, they should be taken just as seriously.

“If someone gets into a car wreck and breaks something, that is a trauma that requires medical intervention,” said assistant Old Testament professor Jeffrey Volkmer. “Lots of people with mental illness have experienced trauma, and it manifests in mental things. The basis of some of those very mental struggles are physiological mechanisms. Our brains work on chemicals and are terribly sensitive to stress hormones like adrenaline. There really is no material difference between getting medical intervention for a broken arm versus a medical intervention for a mental illness.”

Strength, courage, faith and hope are necessary for this intervention. Seeking help should never be seen as lacking faith, but having it. It takes faith to trust that God will be with them when they sit down with a therapist they do not know, open up about their struggles and trust that they will do whatever they can to treat them. It also takes faith to open up a bottle of prescriptions for the first time without any clue about the potential side effects. God will not be found in Prozac or Bupropion, but medications are tools that should be used in the battle if necessary.

HOW THE CHURCH CAN HELP

While a mental illness cannot be prayed away, it does not make prayer any less of a necessity. Most people can think of an instance where the church prayed over a member that was about to undergo serious surgery or chemotherapy. The church should always pray for those suffering from a mental illness, asking God to guide their steps and provide them with the necessary hope and perseverance. They should also encourage these members to seek the help they need and celebrate the steps that are made toward improvement.

Another option is to establish a plan to assist members who are struggling with mental health. The LifeWay Research survey also revealed that only 27% of churches have these kinds of plans. The amount of members aware of these plans is even less. If this option is affordable, it should be used.

I do not expect the church to be perfect or to be a mental health treatment facility filled with trained professionals. I am simply trying to give them an idea as to how they can improve and help their suffering members. It is my deepest wish that the Christian community can continue to move in a positive direction so that suffering believers can feel safe to bring their struggles to light.

Biola has incredibly beneficial options for students who are struggling with their mental and emotional health, such as the Biola Counseling Center. Students can meet with a therapist for $20 a session.