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Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
As someone who has grown up in the church, I have heard many lies about mental health.
And as someone who lives with mental illness, I have been damaged by these stigmatizing lies on many occasions.
I thought it might be helpful to break down the three biggest lies, in no particular order, I have struggled with in my own recovery journey.
Lie #1: The Bad Christian Lie
“Your so-called ‘mental illness’ is a result of a lack of faith.”
“You aren’t close enough to God.”
“You aren’t praying/reading the Bible/worshipping enough.”
Over and over, I have heard people attribute the cause of mental illness to one’s spiritual failings. I have even bought into this lie at times, as many others I know have, because the nature of any mental illness is to make us feel as though we are not enough or somehow our circumstances are our own fault.
This is a hard lie to counter because it feels true.
This is where we must rely on what we know is true about the causes of mental illness. Often, a person suffering from a mental illness has a biological predisposition, be it genetics, hormones, neurochemicals, temperament, etc. This then develops into a mental illness because of any number of triggers: culture, family, environment, hormone changes, interpersonal problems, societal values, stress, transitions, trauma, etc.
In other words, faith and mental illness are not related to each other. You cannot pray it away. You cannot “just have more faith” and be healed. There is no miracle cure.
And while spiritual disciplines and practices may be helpful for some, faith is not the be-all, end-all to recovery.
Your mental health is not a reflection of your faith.
Lie #2: The Salvation Lie
“You don’t need medication/professional help. You just need Jesus.”
In the words of a very wise friend, “Jesus didn’t give me my meal plan for today, so shut up.”
While faith can be a vital part of someone’s recovery from mental illness, it is no substitute for professional help and treatment.
Working with a team of trusted professionals, which may include a dietitian, medical doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist, is crucial to recovering and maintaining both emotional and physical health when dealing with mental illness.
Again, psychologists and scientists are finding evidence mental illness is rooted in things we have no control over, such as biology, our genetics, or our neurochemical makeup.
This makes it similar to what we recognize as physical illness.
If someone becomes afflicted with cancer, no one in the church would hesitate to push this person to seek chemotherapy and radiation from an oncologist. If a person breaks a bone, they would be sent to an orthopedic doctor and physical therapist. And when a woman becomes pregnant, she sees an OBGYN to help maintain her health. No one thinks twice about seeing a specialist for these physical ailments.
In the very same way, people living with mental illness need, and deserve, treatment from a professional who specializes in this particular area. Sometimes, this treatment involves medication, which is not entirely unlike the medication you would take for allergies or asthma, to help manage your symptoms.
God has given us the amazing gift of medicine and psychology as His way of taking care of us and bringing us healing. Utilizing the people and tools He has provided for us does not mean you trust Him less.
Lie #3: The Condemnation Lie
“Addiction/mental illness is a sin.”
“People who are addicts/have eating disorders/self-harm/commit suicide go to Hell.”
My freshman year of college, I had a difficult time reconciling my mental illness, particularly my eating disorder, with my faith. So I did what anyone in my situation would do; I sought wisdom from others I perceived to be wiser and more mature in their faith.
Quite a few of these Christians told me eating disorders were, in fact, sinful because our bodies are God’s temple and eating disorders destroy our bodies. It is sinful to tell God His works, our bodies, are not good enough.
The most helpful response I received, however, came in the form of a question: Who are we to determine what constitutes sin and what does not? None of us is God, and therefore, this judgment is not up to us (John 8:1-11, Romans 2).
To my knowledge, there is nothing in scripture which explicitly says mental illness is a sin, but even if there was, I am positive the whole “Jesus dying on the cross” thing absolves us from this so-called “sin” and saves us from any condemnation resulting from it (see 1 Corinthians 1:28-31; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 2:8; Hebrews 4:16; John 3:16-18; 1 John 1:9, 2:12; Mark 16:16; Romans 6:14, 8; Titus 2:11).
Christ has set us free, which does not mean we will no longer struggle with mental illness.
Rather, we can be confident in our salvation because of God’s grace.
Hopefully, by beginning to recognize these statements and others as not being true, you can start taking steps toward overcoming them.
Surrounding yourself with a healthy community (which you can read more about here: https://liberomagazine.com/faith/healthy-community/) will help with ultimately challenging the lies with what is true.
Just like recovery, reconciling your faith with mental illness is an imperfect process and it takes time.
It’s okay to have doubts and questions. It’s also okay to put your faith on the backburner to get more acute symptoms of your mental illness under control. There is no one right way to overcome these, and other, lies about mental illness and faith, but freedom is possible and all of us deserve to walk in it.
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