When Christians experience anxiety, depression, or any other mental health problem, sometimes a perceived veil of shame descends over their lives. An identified mental struggle can feel like a spiritual failure. Well-meaning people of faith can point us in the direction of a spiritual response – like more prayer or more Bible study.

What’s wrong with this approach to Christians and Mental Health?

If mental health problems are misdiagnosed as spiritual problems, Christians may seek help from people who are unqualified to treat their issues and they may experience harmful consequences as a result.  A case in point comes to mind…

Two different adults shared a history of deep trauma in childhood. In adulthood, each was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and each likewise sought spiritual healing, thinking their mental struggles were demonic.  Both Christians were severely traumatized by the spiritual healing sessions, and each required years of therapy to process those additional traumas.

Additional trauma is what I want to help Christians avoid. So, let’s take time to help Christians reframe their view of mental health struggles.

Let’s start with reframing human emotions:

Some people assign value judgments to human emotions: like identifying anger and fear as bad, and happiness and joy as good.  I prefer to categorize emotions as comfortable or uncomfortable to feel.  For instance, anger and fear can be uncomfortable to experience, while happiness and joy are quite comfortable to feel. My point is that human emotions are neutral, neither good or bad, but easy or difficult to experience.

Reframe Anger

Imagine that you’re overcome with anger at a person who hurt you, an unjust situation, or even at yourself for some personal failure.

Does that fiery feeling somehow feel wrong and possibly at odds with your faith?   Have you learned that “righteous” anger is permissible (think Jesus and Moneychangers), but yours (triggered by a human situation) is not?

I think we need to remove value judgments from our feelings. Anger is no more bad than love is good. One person can be angry and do good things. Another person can love and do bad things. Feelings are not good or bad, but human actions can be either.

Emotions are normal human reactions to a world that is far from perfect. Just as a hot burner hurts our hand, so do harsh words and harmful circumstances hurt our feelings. Our challenge is to feel uncomfortable feelings and respond in a wise way.

Now Let’s Reframe a Mental Health Struggle:

Let’s say you’ve lived with anxiety for most of your life. You can’t help worrying about this or that all day long.  Or maybe you check a stove burner 6 times to make sure it’s off.  Perhaps you’ve mistaken a panic attack for a heart attack.

Do these experiences indicate that you’re not trusting God enough? Have you been told that your faith is decreasing because your anxiety is increasing?

Reframe Anxiety

Sometimes Christians can be very judgmental about anxiety. I think this kind of judgment is often based on ignorance. Anxiety is not a mental or physical experience humans choose, like toppings on a pizza.  It’s a mental storm some people have trouble escaping – a human experience, not a symbol of spiritual health.

A Suggested Perspective on Christians and Mental Health

Christians have mental health struggles just like all other humans.  Our brains and mental conditioning were not upgraded the minute we entered a life of faith.  We don’t choose to experience anger, depression, or anxiety.  We have emotional reactions to events and experiences, and sometimes we need professional help to navigate the world of our own mental health. How human of us!

If you are a Christian who would like to explore how therapy can help you with a mental health struggle, reach out to learn more about Christian Counseling.