Mental health and faith can feel like two separate worlds. For many people, they look at life as either spiritual or physical/mental. Mixing the two is like trying to mix steak and Kraft Dinner. They just don't seem to fit. But this is not healthy, because a healthy mind is a healthy soul.
The phrase “Mental Health” does not appear in the Bible. Yet to ignore our mental health would be a huge mistake in our development as a person.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind. Jesus, Matthew 22:37.
Why did Jesus say it this way?
He didn’t say, "Love God with your body, your brain, your hand, and your foot…" These are body parts and on their own, they are empty of life. By saying “Love God with your heart, soul, and mind” he asked each one of us to love God with our very emotions, our thoughts, our dreams, and our passions.
Click CONTINUE for 7 ways that faith can help with the weight of living.
1. Your faith can help you cope with stress and pain.
Did you know that you can also use your faith to avoid. There are times when I have prayed about my situation rather than talked about it or took the action that I needed to take. Sometimes, our spiritual life can be a way to avoid what we need to do. Rather than taking action, we pray, or we read, or we journal.
I highly recommend the book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. You can find the book at Amazon or at any bookstore.
I became a Christian in my teens and some time after I remember having a medical checkup. I don't remember why I was seeing the doctor, but during the check up he asked me if I was depressed. I lied. I told him I was fine. I lied because I did not want to be a bad example and I thought it was unspiritual to be depressed. I didn’t understand that you can’t pray away your mental health.
2. Being too spiritual may not be a good thing.
It's easy to overly spiritualize something like health. Some of us have no difficulty wearing glasses or taking an aspirin, but we draw the line at taking an antidepressant. Sometimes we conclude that if you take a pill for your mind that you won't be yourself anymore. Taking an antidepressant or any other medication won’t make you less of a Christian.
3. Sometimes loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul can be very difficult.
When your mind races, when you are chronically anxious or depressed, or when you hear voices, or when you find yourself continuously focused on your pain or trauma – it makes loving him very, very difficult; maybe even impossible. God won’t judge you for getting the help you need. A healthy mind is a healthy soul.
I have experienced depression since I was young. Some seasons of my depression have been particularly crushing and others were not as dark. But each season of depression has taught me more about myself, my family and about life.
Here is a link to an article I wrote about Depression: Four Questions that will Change Your Mind.
When someone you know is in the middle of a dark season, please don't say to them, “Just think of what you are learning.” That's just not what they need. It can take a while before a person is ready to learn from your experience.
Imagine if a friend of yours were facing surgery. It would be unwise to say to them, “Just think of what you are learning!” Be sensitive.
4. Your baggage is not any worse than the next person.
Your baggage is not worse, it's just different. But if you are hard on yourself about your mistakes and your stuff, you heap shame onto your soul.
Shame is toxic to your depression, your anxiety, your trauma, or your emotions. Shame is like a set of lenses that become superglued to your soul. They color your world, making it so difficult to speak up, open up and just talk. You sense judgment everywhere and you have no freedom. God wants you to love Him and to love yourself.
Don’t ignore your baggage, acknowledge it. But hold onto hope rather than shame.
5. Let yourself be loved - by people, by God, and perhaps even by yourself.
Let yourself be loved, despite your pain. Despite your trust issues. And despite your trauma. When we internalize an image of a loving God, that love heals. If we sense a load of punishment, judgment, and unworthiness, it will eat away at our mental health and create a negative emotional life filled with shame.
If you find it a challenge to experience love, you can pray about it. But if it persists, this is where professional help may be needed.
Should you go to a counselor who might not be a Christian? I have gone to both Christian and non-Christian therapists and I’ve had good and bad experiences with both. Remember that counselors and psychologists have an ethical obligation to respect and give space to our spiritual and religious traditions. It is a personal decision and getting the kind of help that fits with who you are is what you want.
6.Not everything your mind does is spiritual.
Some anxiety is a genuine disorder and some of it is just anxiety that will pass. Sure you and I need to trust God and let go, but if you have cancer, you need to get some treatment. If anxiety or depression is chronic or crippling, you likely need some treatment. If your anxiety or your depression is more situational (it comes and it goes), you may respond well to prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, and physical exercise.
If you would like to understand whether your anxiety is chronic or more situational, follow this link. And remember, be sensitive, what works for you may not be what will work for another person.
7. Stand proud.
Faith has a number of mental health benefits: It is a huge coping skill for when you struggle; being involved in your faith will make you less likely to use drugs or become alcohol-dependent; and you will also live longer. If you are a believer, your body will actually respond better to medical treatments.
One thing to remember is that having a faith that is rule-bound and self-critical will actually be harmful to your mental health and overall well-being. It is love that heals, not religion alone.
Experiencing depression and anxiety have made me more empathetic, more caring and better able to support other people who suffer. For more, see this post "Depression Will Make You a Better Human Being."
God can, and will, use your pain as a way to encourage and support other people. He can take something powerfully negative like trauma and dark, difficult moods and help you to reach others who face similar things.
The Weight of Living
The original title for this post is from a song by Bastille. The song reminds us that the Weight of Living that we carry, our depression, or anxiety or traumas, they do not have to always be this way. We can leave it behind.
This post is adapted from a previous article on the topic of faith and mental health. Please remember that this and any article on mental health is not a substitute for medical advice or Counselling. Please see your doctor and get the help that you need for your mind, your body, and your soul.
Sean Swaby is a writer in the areas of mental health and addiction, family, leadership, and anything that demonstrates the power of story. You can find him at smswaby.wordpress.com and on Facebook, here. In addition to being an Editor with the Good Men Project, Sean has been published with Babble, The Mighty, Be You Media Group and Addiction Unscripted. Sign up for his blog if you want to receive the latest and best of his writing.