What do you think is the biggest issue in our culture today? Is it inflation, the use of technology, the political climate, or something else? What about mental health struggles?
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness in a given year. More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder in their lifetime. You likely know someone who struggles with mental illness, or you may be that someone.
It's easy to assume that the rise of mental health issues in recent years is the result of external factors, such as cultural issues, technology, COVID-19, or generational repercussions.
One may struggle with mental health for various reasons, such as past trauma, a history of abuse, ongoing medical conditions, biological factors, substance use, and more. No two people are on the same journey, but no one facing mental illness is alone, no matter how isolating it feels.
Those struggling with mental illness may feel invalidated when told that their issues can be simply “prayed away.”
While essential to hold onto your faith during tough seasons, dealing with mental illness is not always a sign of weak faith. Struggling with your mental health doesn't disqualify you from having a close relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, our bodies and minds are affected by a broken and sinful world, making it difficult to "pray it away."
Before we get into what the Bible says about our mental health, please know that if you are struggling, we encourage you to seek help. There are counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists who would love to speak with you and help you get to a healthier place. Know that you are not a failure because you reach out for help. It shows immense strength to invest in yourself to get to a place of healing.
Examples of mental health issues in the Bible:
Open conversations about anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are relatively new to our culture, so the Bible doesn't have much to say about dealing with diagnosed conditions. But we know the Bible tells many stories of broken people who pleaded with God to remove their anxiety, fear, and sadness; people begged God to allow them to die and felt all aspects of the human condition.
David grappled with his own humanity throughout Psalm:
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:11
Job suffered through loss and illness:
Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? Job 3:11
I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest; only trouble comes. Job 3:26
Elijah was thoroughly discouraged:
I have had enough Lord, he said. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors. 1 Kings 19:4
There is hope.
Philippians 4:4-8 gives us some hope about how to deal with the struggles many of us face today:
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again— rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
These verses may be oversimplified and misinterpreted as, "If you are anxious, you must not be praying enough. Give your worries to God, and your anxiety will go away." You most likely aren’t experiencing anxiety just because you’re not praying enough. Ultimately what we choose to focus on will determine how we handle our struggle.
When we focus on Jesus, our earthly struggles diminish.
We can't expect our lives as followers of Jesus to be perfect because there is no promise for an effortless or comfortable life. But, when we focus on Jesus in the middle of our struggles, the things we face seem small compared to the God we serve and love.
Jesus said in John 16:33:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
3 ways to combat mental illness:
1. Tell God and someone else. You are not alone. Don't keep your struggles to yourself. First, tell God. "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need." And once you tell God, tell someone else. We are designed to live in community with others, and there are people around you who care about you. Lean into your community.
2. Fix your thoughts. "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable." In the middle of your struggles, where do you allow your mind to go? We can only think about one thing at a time. Are you focusing on how debilitating your anxiety makes you feel? Or are you focusing on good things, things from Jesus- that are so much greater than any struggle here on earth? Focusing on Jesus may not make your anxiety disappear, but it will shift your focus to what's more important.
3. Fill your mind with thankfulness. Thankfulness may seem insignificant, but it bears a lot of weight. When you focus on what you're thankful for, your gratitude will overshadow the struggles that may cloud your mind. "Thank him for all he has done."
Our struggle with mental health may never go away, but we know that God is the same today, tomorrow, and forever, and he's not going anywhere. When we struggle with mental health, it doesn't mean we have weak faith. But the way we respond to our struggles can be the thing that grows deep roots of faith in us.
If you’re looking for additional resources on mental health check out: