As a Christian and a counselor, I’ve received some negative comments over the 12 years I’ve practiced and, they are often from Christians. I’m shocked! Our Lord is called, “wonderful, counselor” in Isaiah 9:6. How can counselor be associated with anything bad? Before you go and think, “She’s comparing herself to our Savior”….hold your horses. I’m just saying, counselor is a good thing and not only that, it’s a God thing. I’d like to share some truths about mental health and God’s love and compassion for those suffering with mental health issues or emotional distress.
1: God heals mental illness
First, God can heal anything. We know this. We believe this. He can heal cancer, diabetes, heart disease, a broken family, depression, anxiety, and trauma. God can and always will be the ultimate healer. We should always seek Him first with any hardships in life, whether they are physical, mental, or spiritual.
2: God wants you to reach out
Second, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times in life when we need to seek help from a doctor, a lawyer, a financial advisor, a teacher, a health coach, or even a counselor. God can heal, but we are His hands and feet. God is all about relationships. His relationship with us and our relationships with each other. He doesn’t want us to live in isolation or think we don’t need anyone or trust anyone. He wants us to reach out to Him and to people who can help us when we’re hurting. If you have cancer, that would be your oncologist and if you have depression or bipolar disorder, that would be your psychiatrist and your mental health therapist.
3: Know the different levels of support and seek what you need
Third, there is a difference between counseling and therapy. I know, I’m using the word interchangeably, but there is a difference. Pastors are wonderful counselors. They know their congregation. They understand their needs. They should be your first phone call and your first stop…after seeking God in prayer, of course! Your pastor will meet with you and point you to God’s truth in scripture. They will encourage you and love you through whatever you’re struggling with in your life.
Pastors….this is for you. If you are meeting with one of your flock and they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, are having troubles sleeping, have lost their appetite and stopped eating, have racing thoughts or can’t focus, or just seem to be dealing with more than normal life struggles, PLEASE CALL A THERAPIST! Have one on speed dial…one that you know and trust. Continue to meet with them, but also make sure they are seeking therapy by a licensed therapist. So, what is the difference? Counselors listen, offer compassion, encourage, and guide, all wonderful things and all things that both your pastor and your therapist should be doing, but therapists also use other types of interventions including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is just a fancy way of saying that we are going to identify your negative or unhelpful thoughts and replace them with helpful thoughts to create changes in how you feel and behave. Hmmm, what does that sound like? “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8. Yeah, God said it first.
4: Mental Illness is not a sin issue, it’s a brain issue
Fourth, mental illness is not a sin issue. There can be a separate spiritual component to it, but mental illness is a brain issue. This one is a touchy subject. Unfortunately, I have seen far too many Christians over the years that have told me that they were shamed for having anxiety, depression, or some other type of mental health issue because they were told that “you just don’t have enough faith” or “there must be some sin in your life or you would be at peace”. Just like heart disease isn’t caused by not having enough faith, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are not caused by not having enough faith. They are both chemical imbalances at a physiological level, just like heart disease.
I do believe that one part of us affects the rest, such as how stress does affect our physical health, and our physical health, or lack thereof can cause mental health issues. We don’t treat Type 1 Diabetes by telling someone that they have a spiritual issue or sin in their life and we shouldn’t treat those who are struggling with mental health that way either. God created us…body, mind, and spirit. Genesis 1:37, “He created us in His image.” Psalm 139:14, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” We have to treat the whole person to really help someone struggling with mental illness. Any struggle needs a team approach because we are made in God’s image! We are complicated people!
5: God created us with a range of emotions
Last, not all depression or anxiety is bad. God made us and He created us with a system that tells us when something is wrong so we will turn to a loving Father who will help us. He gave us an alarms system to go off when we sense danger. When it goes off, society calls that anxiety. The bible says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? When we have anxiety, that’s when we go to God. In prayer. With thanks. We say, “Hey Lord, what’s up? I’m having anxiety about this thing coming up. I need your help.” And our God, who loves us and loves having a relationship with us answers back with peace, that transcends all understanding. Wow, thanks God! Anxiety turned to peace. We all need that, right? I know I do. So, our God and creator, created us with a system for anxiety so that we would turn to Him, and then He gives us this wonderful gift. God gives good gifts.
So what about depression? In Ecclesiastes 3:1, God’s word says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. There is a time for joy…and a time for mourning.” Depression is another warning signal for us to cling to God. Feelings of depression don’t last forever, but we have them for a reason and to deny them or push them down is not helpful and it’s not what God created those feelings for. What we are mourning may be a loss of a loved one, a job, a marriage, a friendship, the last donut, or something else, but we are mourning something and we have a God who loves us and offers us comfort through Him and through other people. God created us to mourn. Sometimes we just need a hug and prayer. Other times we need a year of intense therapy and daily medication, but God can heal through the hug and prayer or through therapy and medication if needed.
Our God is amazing and He loves us so much. He created each of us uniquely and beautifully. Unfortunately, sin entered the world and created sickness, pain, and death. Sickness takes many different forms in physical, mental, and spiritual struggles. Through it all, we know that God is good and provides a way for us to heal, through Him, through our families, churches, friends, and even through your therapist.