Society tends to be the worst when it comes to addressing depression and anxiety. Each being “touchy” subjects in their own right, it can be hard to know just how to approach them in a respectful and understanding manner.
For many individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety—or any other mental illness for that matter—facing society with such battles is only scratching the surface. Try bringing those complex mental disorders to church.
Generally speaking, the church is where every single person, regardless of how broken, battered, or “messed up” they are, should be welcomed with open arms and understanding. Unfortunately, because of differing perspectives, teachings and preconceived intellect throughout the church, that picture-perfect welcoming committee is far from reality.
Our culture is riddled with incorrect beliefs about mental illness as it is, but bring prayer, salvation, and well-meaning churchgoers who are clueless when it comes to the realities of dealing with mental illness into the picture, and you’re looking at a recipe for disaster.
Of course, this isn’t because Christians are bad people—in fact, it’s just the opposite. Many Christians desire to understand mental illness and search for ways to support the affected individuals through scripture and prayer. But, in generalizing the individual into what they believe they’re going through as someone suffering from depression or anxiety, the church tends to get a lot of things wrong, making it a difficult place for people to feel welcomed—brokenness and all.
There is no blueprint way to talk about depression and anxiety. As complex as they are, mental illnesses present themselves differently in every individual. So no particular set of lists will provide an answer. Still, the church SHOULD be a place for everyone—especially those seeking support with depression and anxiety. Hopefully, this list provides a good place to start.
Here are 5 things Christians should know about depression and anxiety.
Depression and Anxiety are not a measure of someone’s faith.
In misunderstanding mental illness, and not having the right words to say, the church and its people have a terrible tendency to offer empty advice like, “if only you had more faith,” or “if you just pray more,” as solutions to an individual’s suffering.
Let me just start by saying, these responses are the furthest thing from biblically sound advice. Not to mention, they isolate the individual as someone who, because of their mental illness, is not worthy of God’s healing in their life, which couldn’t further from the truth. Every single person is KNOWN by God. And the fact that they have depression or anxiety is NO measure of their faith. That’s like saying someone with the flu should just “pray more” to see the Lord at work in their life.
We believe in the POWER of prayer, but suggesting that a person’s mental illness is a result of not enough prayer, is no way to save hearts and grow the Kingdom.
Mental illness is not a sin.
I can guarantee you that any person suffering from a mental illness is also carrying around some weight of shame. In some cases, they may have found systems or some sort of freedom to lighten the load. But in other cases, there is unprecedented shame in knowing that you have an illness that nobody can see, few can understand, and will—in most cases—cause a myriad of reactions in people.
Sin causes shame as well, but mental illness IS NOT A SIN. Suggesting so is just adding shame to shame, thus further pushing someone away in the ONE place they should be welcomed, accepted, and LOVED.
When depression and anxiety are wrongfully treated as unconfessed “sins,” the result is beyond alienating. It places unnecessary shame and embarrassment on the individual, prevents that person from further seeking treatment, and suggests that their mental illness will keep them from salvation.
Depression and Anxiety are not as they appear.
For most well-meaning church people who genuinely want to help those battling a mental illness, things aren’t always as they seem. That joyful, happy-go-lucky girl in the second row may be in the thick of one of her worst depressive episodes; but on the outside she appears to be loving life, loving the Lord, and the last person we would think is in need of help.
That’s how depression and anxiety work. Those who suffer from such, become extremely good at concealing their true feelings and symptoms because of the stigma attached to it.
Because mental illness is often difficult to identify, churches tend to shy away from discussing it. As a result, it becomes easier for members of the church to hide it further, rather than feeling accepted, encouraged, supported and loved in the midst of what they’re going through.
The church cannot “fix” depression and anxiety.
For many well-meaning church-goers, depression and anxiety are totally foreign experiences. Being ill-equipped in their knowledge and understanding, they often resort to overly-spiritual solutions, rather than knowing how to best approach the individual and their journey.
There is absolutely a spiritual element to the ways mental illness manifests in people’s lives. But not having the right framework or spiritual understanding of such, often results in unintentionally isolating conversations that question one’s spiritual walk, their faith, and their Christianity.
The greatest thing to understand is that the Church and scripture cannot FIX a person with mental illness because quite frankly, they don’t need fixing. They need judgment-free support, from people who are equipped to offer such, and silence from those who find themselves at a loss for what to say.
If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all.
Being quick to speak in an area we do not understand is harmful, it’s not biblical, and it is no way to love and support those who are suffering from mental illness in the church.
If your profession is a school teacher but someone asked you to list step-by-step how to medically treat a person with breast cancer, you wouldn’t pretend to know the solution. The same is true in circumstances of mental illness. If you don’t have a biblically-sound, fact-based solution, it’s best that you say nothing at all—just as you would if curing cancer was presented to you.
The most important thing in tackling mental illness in the church is that we choose our words and actions wisely, just like we should in everything else. We want to create a safe space and judgment-free zone for our brothers and sisters to live their life in Christ and find the support they need to overcome battles like depression and anxiety.