A Christian Perspective on Mental Illness: Introduction
It feels quite fitting that I start a new treatment for depression, called rTMS (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – more about this treatment later) on Mental Health Awareness Week. I also ended up submitting an assignment on Friday which was the transcript of a Youth Group talk from last term. The topic? Yep, you guessed it – a look at mental illness in light of the Bible. I decided this was a talk I really wanted to edit for Breaking Stigma – I don’t think anyone would deny that there is still an incredible amount of stigma when it comes to mental illness in Australia and it can be even more misunderstood in churches.
This talk was delivered to a group of predominantly Christian high school students as part of a topical series. The bottom line for the series was that sin has broken and distorted our world, which has resulted in cultural, societal and interpersonal issues. We attempted to understand this distortion in light of the gospel. Mental illness is one of these issues. If you chose to follow this seven-part series, A Youth Minister’s Guide to Anxiety and Depression, please consider this context.
This first post will briefly address five common misconceptions about Mental Illness.
Mental illnesses aren’t just emotional, but physical.
Most mental illness occurs when chemicals, hormones and messages in the brain aren’t working how they’re supposed to and the brain is a part of the body. Many symptoms are also physical. Depression can make you feel sad, numb or overwhelmed, but it can also cause fatigue, sleeplessness, affect your appetite and cause muscle tension.
People with mental illness are not dangerous and psychotic, which means they’re losing touch with reality.
Mental illnesses are complex, and there are more types of illnesses than I can count. There are mental illnesses that cause psychosis, like schizophrenia and a type of Bipolar, but the most common types of mental illnesses are depression and anxiety – which I will be focusing on tonight. Neither of these have psychosis as a symptom and they rarely cause people to be dangerous.
Depression is not simply feeling sad all the time, and anxiety isn’t just worrying all the time.
These diagrams show the differences between feeling anxious and having anxiety and feeling depressed and having depression. Keep in mind that everyone is different, but these images visually represent what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety.
Anxiety is more than just worrying; it can include sweating, muscle tension, chest pain, increased heart rate, troubled sleep, second guessing yourself, over thinking and a battle between what you know is rational and the irrational anxiety.
Likewise, depression is far more than sadness, it also manifests in isolation, guilt, hopelessness, feeling anxious, self-hatred and a sense of nothing or numbness.
Mental illness is common.
In Australia, one in five people are experiencing a mental illness right now. Look at the image on the left and imagine each dot is a person, one in five of the dots are blue and they represent individuals who have a mental illness. But it doesn’t stop there, have a look at the image on the right. 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, so nearly half of us, by the time we die, will experience a mental illness.
Because it’s so common; it’s important for Christians to address mental illness and learn to understand it, so we can better communicate with and love others (as God commands us to do). Tonight, The Project on Channel 10 also briefly addressed how common and untreated mental illness is, especially among young people. Make sure you check it out here!
Finally, ‘real’ Christians can suffer mental illness.
I believe this is false, as I love and follow Jesus and have had depression and anxiety since primary school. I have had the experience of Christians saying unhelpful things to me. I’ve been told my depression means I’m possessed by a demon and that I’m only depressed because I don’t have enough faith. Neither of these comments are helpful. They actually made me feel worse and encouraged me to isolate from God when I needed to draw closer to Him…
Mental illness is common, and I believe that the negative things depression and anxiety cause find their explanation in the Bible and answer in Jesus. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to use a few verses from the book of Romans to share five things that have encouraged me as a Christian living with chronic mental illness.
- The Bible offers us an explanation,
- Scripture helps us combat ‘stinking thinking,
- God has given us His Spirit and listens to us when we pray,
- Jesus has made promises that give us a true hope, and
- God has given Christians the beautiful gift of community.
If you continue to join me through this series, I hope you are
1) encouraged to show compassion, love and empathy to those you know and meet with Mental illness and
2) are encourage to draw nearer to the God who shows you unconditional compassion, love and empathy.