Mental health is a subject of much controversy, especially when it comes to the idea of "medicating our emotions." Anxiety, depression, phobias, and more affect countless numbers of people, and that’s not even touching on other mental disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. In addition to countless disorders, there is just as much diversity in the cause of mental health problems. Because of that, diagnosing and treating the problem is never an easy task.
Unfortunately, the Christian community has gotten a bad reputation for panicking in the face of mental health complexity. Emotional, mental, and spiritual health are very tightly interwoven, something even many secular counseling resources will acknowledge. For example, step 2 in Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 Step Program is "Find a Power Greater Than Yourself." Connecting with a "higher power" is clearly recognized as a necessary part of healing. So how should a Christian care for his or her mental health?
While there are a growing number of Christian resources acknowledging the validity of mental health, there are still many organizations that define depression and anxiety as "just not having enough faith/not trusting God." Other sources may define mental health battles as exclusively demonic oppression. Others, still, may view anti-depressants and other mental health treatments as a way to cover-up a heart problem instead of dealing with a sinful root. Let us assure you that even though some of those things may be a factor in poor mental health, that does not mean that it is always the case for everyone who struggles with their mental health.
There no absolute and ultimate cause for depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. Reasons for mental disorders can range from abuse and neglect to deeply traumatic circumstances, to a move or job change, to divorce or the death a loved one, to countless other reasons. One of the most damaging things we could possibly do is to assume we know the whole story about any sufferer of mental health issues.
Genetic lines can carry different tendencies toward mental and physical health. Some people's brain chemistry is genetically pre-disposed to an imbalance in which they cannot not produce the proper amount (or type) of hormones for a person to "feel good" or emotionally balanced. Like a genetic tendency toward diabetes, our bodies (including our brains) are not perfect, but instead broken vessels housing souls that were never created to experience such physical brokenness.
The cause of suffering may come from a combination of traumatic events which either lead to or aggravate an internal chemical imbalance, which in turn results in lower emotional and spiritual morale. As Christians, we need to be aware that the devil will take advantage of that state of mind. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
Truth is, science has barely scratched the surface of how the brain works, and it could very well be that in ten, twenty, fifty years many treatments we have today will become obsolete as we learn more about the amazing body God designed. But does that mean these treatments should be avoided today? Does the act of taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, or other mental health medication speak to a total lack of faith or trust in God? NO.
With a doctor's recommendation and supervision, yes. Medication is a tool, and, like any tool, it can be properly utilized to care for the body and mind, strengthening our ability to be a positive witness, or it can be neglected and/or abused. There are some sufferers of depression and anxiety who choose not to take medication and may pursue counseling instead, or may choose to combine medication and counseling. Other mental health sufferers, such as those with bipolar disorder, who will never truly "get better" will need the constant treatment of medication to remain stable (such as taking insulin for type 1 diabetes).
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." —1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Part of caring for your body is eating nutritious food, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly. Similarly, we can use pain medication for a broken leg or arm to allow our body to rest while it heals. Diabetics take insulin to regulate their blood sugar. Many people take vitamins to fill in nutritional gaps in their diets. The brain is part of that body you must care for, and in addition to guarding what you allow into your mind (Philippians 4:8), it is also important and valid to care for how your brain is physically functioning.
In the end, God is the ultimate healer of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health (Matthew 9:22; John 4:14). Just like we cannot use our own willpower to mend a broken bone, we cannot use our own willpower to "fix" mental health. God cares for us and the struggles you face matter to Him. He is the one who can guide you toward the right doctor who will best understand your condition or a Christian counselor who will really click with you. God is the one who allows the medication to work, and He is the one who will heal the heart and spirit.
Seeking help for physical and mental healing through medicine is not weakness, but it is just as important to seek spiritual healing through God’s will and guidance as we face any given trial. As eternal souls living in broken bodies, there are many layers of healing that need to be managed and cared for every day. We can't only focus on mental health, or just physical health, or just spiritual health. All three work together, and it is God who will lead us to what we need—no matter the physical, mental, or spiritual ailment.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." —Philippians 4:4-7
The act of taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, or other mental health medication does NOT automatically mean that you lack faith or trust in God. The brain is a part of our physical bodies that we must care for (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In addition to guarding your mind (Philippians 4:8), it is also important to care for your brain physically. Ultimately, God is the one who can guide you toward the right doctor or a great Christian counselor (Matthew 9:22; John 4:14). God is the one who allows the medication to work, and He is the one who will heal the heart and spirit.
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.