If you struggle with mental illness, your pastor probably has said something like “If you’re anxious, it means you’re not trusting God for peace,” or “If you’re depressed, you’re not trusting God for joy.” Translation? “You brought this on yourself.”
Woah, there. So, if you have Cancer, does that mean you don’t trust God to heal you? If you have a broken bone, does that mean you didn’t trust God as your protector? Yet some might say, well…mental issues aren’t the same. And why not, I ask?
Anyways, I noticed this problem is actually biblical. Let me take you to the passage.
Remember Job’s friends? Yeah, they thought they helped him, but really, they didn’t. When Job told them all about his suffering, they basically told him that God punished him for a lack of faith. Each of them even had their own speeches.
Excuse me? Job, the most righteous person deserved all the suffering he went through?
Actually, upon closer examination, it’s highly likely Job struggled with some sort of depression. Read through chapter 30 and see what I mean.
Have I not wept for those in trouble?
Has not my soul grieved for the poor?
26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came;
when I looked for light, then came darkness.
27 The churning inside me never stops;
days of suffering confront me.
Does that not look like depression? Darkness overcame Job. The New American Commentary on Job suggests that he dealt with a psychosomatic illness in v.27, meaning an illness caused by a mental factor. Maybe he didn’t deal with chronic depression, but he was certainly depressed at this point.
So, on that note, mental illness does not equal a lack of faith in God.
Furthermore, a few different things cause depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses: genetics, changes in neurotransmitter levels or hormones, trauma, stress, co-occurring physical or mental health issues, and environmental stressors. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Yes, we can recover from it. However, if mental illness comes stems from biological issues (e.g. low levels of serotonin) , then prayer might not change everything right away.
Yes, God heals––but maybe he won’t ever take a mental illness away fully. We might recover tremendously from it, yet still have a part of it that returns every now-and-then because we live in a sinful world full of evil. Often times, someone’s spiritual life will also improve significantly once they receive the right medication and treatment for their mental illness.
So, in conclusion, don’t criticize people with mental illnesses for a lack of faith or equate it with their spiritual life. Indeed, a spiritual problem may exist, such as lack of trust, but that most often not the major issue for people who truly have clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, or another mood disorder.