The Mayo Clinic describes mental illness, also called mental health disorders, this way: "a wide range of mental health conditions—disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression , anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function."1
Mental disorders are a growing concern amongst our general population, especially with adolescents. A US study from 2001-2004 found that an estimated 49.5% of adolescents (ages 13-18) had some kind of mental disorder. Of those, an estimated 22.2% had severe impairment and/or distress.2 The information available regarding these disorders is rapidly expanding and changing, which can make it hard to find answers, so let’s go over a few basic questions to begin.
Yes! Mental illness is not often something that can be observed from the outside, so some may question its validity or existence. But it is 100% real and should be taken seriously. Those who have not experienced symptoms of mental disorders can easily believe that they are fake or made up. However, the Bible gives us many examples of troubled minds in terrible distress.
In Psalm 22, David laments to the Lord about his pain and despair: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death" (Psalm 22:14-15). Have you ever felt like this? Clearly, David is suffering from depression and great anxiety.
The authors of the Bible did not have access to the knowledge modern medicine and mental health research has given us today. Mental illness had no name at the time. But our modern perspective helps us recognize the clear symptoms of poor mental health in many faithful believers throughout the Bible. If you are suffering from mental illness, you are not alone in this.
Yes! Mental health and physical well-being are linked and equally important. Studies have proven that poor mental health can lead to preventable physical health issues such as heart disease. The reverse is true as well, that poor physical health can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression—not to mention emotional distress. Mental health challenges can take away our motivation to move our bodies, eat well (or regularly), or resist unhealthy temptations that cause bodily harm.3 Then it turns into a vicious cycle of mental and physical pain that seems to have no end for the sufferer.
No. God created us and knows how our minds and bodies function (Psalm 139:1-2). He grieves over how sin has hurt us (Psalm 34:18; Romans 6:23). He sees straight through to the heart of all that troubles us. (See Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 55:22; John 14:27; Matthew 6:26.) The fact that God allowed so many stories of those struggling with mental health to end up in the Bible shows us that He wants us to know He understands the plight (Hebrews 4:15-16). While some sin may cause mental illness to manifest in our lives, suffering from that mental illness is not a sin—it's a symptom that we require healing.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." —2 Corinthians 1:3-4
There is no central cause for mental illness, and, in fact, it can develop from several factors that build up over time. Mental health disorders often manifest through circumstances that are beyond the control of the person affected by them. It could be a biological factor such as a chemical imbalance or genetic anomaly, traumatic experience or series of traumas, substance abuse, long-term illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, or even long-term isolation or loneliness, such as what we all experienced during the pandemic of 2020.4
We must also acknowledge that sometimes a mental illness is a symptom of a spiritual battle or a product of sinful behaviors. While we should not automatically assume that a person's mental illness is due to demonic influence or sin, the Bible does give us examples when demons have been the cause. (See Mark 1:34; Luke 11:14; Mark 5:1-20)
When sinful choices cause a person to suffer from poor mental health, their spirits become weakened and knocked down. Unforgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10-11), bitterness (Hebrews 12:15), fear and anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7), and low self-worth can all damage the spirit. And when the spirit is wounded, clear thinking and healthy choices are a struggle. Life can get tainted by a distortion filter, and nothing will seem real or right.
Regardless of what the cause is, God can heal us and protect us from our demons—both the metaphorical kind and the literal kind (Mark 1:34, Luke 11:14). The important part is to first recognize if mental illness is present. Only then can healing truly begin.
A person does not typically have a sudden change in behavior just because they have been diagnosed with or developed a mental health disorder. Remember, mental illness can manifest over time and through a variety of factors. (Though sudden behavior changes are also a sign of mental health distress and should be addressed.) You may need to change parts of your habits or daily routine, add a medication plan, or seek counseling. Many of your day-to-day activities may not change at all.
Mental illness presents differently in different people, so being open to educating yourself about your diagnosis, communicating your needs to others, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and seeking support from trusted loved ones is vital for finding out what works best for your healing process.
While mental illness is a medical issue that requires the knowledge of doctors and mental health specialists to start treatment, God's love is our most important prescription. Regardless of any diagnosis, we can always turn to God for advice, wisdom, and support (James 1:5; Romans 8:26-27). Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." —Deuteronomy 31:8
God always knows what nurtures, heals, and prepares us for the future; He is on our side (Romans 8:31-39). He is our light and beacon to show the way. He allows those holes in our hearts to be healed. This does not mean that He will miraculously get rid of the mental struggles we face, however, with God as our foundation, we have an unfaltering safe space to fall back to and exist within (Isaiah 41:10).
Remember, living with mental illness is difficult at times, and it’s OK to say that you’re not OK. That doesn't mean you lack faith or are a "bad" Christian. Admitting you need help takes extreme courage, strength, and tenacity and should never be something to be ashamed of.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, find a trusted source of support, such as a loving parent/guardian, your pastor, a teacher or coach, or your school guidance counselor, and see how they can help. There may be some local or online resources available if you find yourself struggling to gather a good in-person support system. God loves and protects His children, and, with Him, we have firm ground on which to stand.
"I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord." —Psalm 40:1-3 (A Psalm of David)
REFERENCES: 1. "Mental Illness," Mayo Clinic Staff, 2023; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/symptoms-causes/syc-20374968 [Accessed: 6-29-2023]. 2. "Mental Illness," National Institute of Mental Health, March 2023; https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness#part_2555 [Accessed 6-29-2023]. 3. "Physical health and mental health," Mental Health Foundation (UK), February 2022; https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/physical-health-and-mental-health [Accessed 6-29-2023]. 4. "About Mental Health," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2023; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health; https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm [Accessed 6-29-2023].
Mental illness is not often something that can be observed from the outside, so some may question its validity or existence. But it is 100% real and should be taken seriously. There is no central cause for mental illness, and, in fact, it can develop from several factors that build up over time. Mental health disorders often manifest through circumstances that are beyond the control of the person affected by them.
Mental illness is a medical issue that requires the knowledge of doctors and mental health specialists to start treatment. Regardless of any diagnosis, we can always turn to God for advice, wisdom, and support (James 1:5; Romans 8:26-27). Living with mental illness is difficult at times, and it’s OK to say that you’re not OK. That doesn't mean you lack faith or are a "bad" Christian. Admitting you need help takes extreme courage, strength, and tenacity and should never be something to be ashamed of.
Hayley has loved the creative arts since she was little. Writing has been amongst her favorite things, and now she’s very excited to be presented with the opportunity to glorify God by using one of her passions. Other favorites include cooking, riding horses, and drawing.