By Amber Ginter, Crosswalk.com
I came across an interesting question on Instagram the other day: "Is it okay for a Christian to seek professional services for their mental health?"
That's an odd statement, I thought to myself. Why wouldn't Christians seek help mentally if they felt they needed it?
My heart began to pound.
There was a time when I didn't seek help mentally even though I needed it. How quickly I'd forgotten.
How Stigmas Prevent Individuals from Seeking Help
While I'm now proud to write about the intersection of faith and mental health, that wasn't always the case. There was a very dark time in my life when I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and too defeated to stand. I questioned my faith, my trust in God, and even my sanity. Why?
Partially because I didn't understand what I was experiencing, but more so, talking about mental health as a Christian was taboo. I figured those around me knew what it was like to suffer from anxiety, depression, and trauma, but they didn't talk about it.
Those who did speak out often told me to "pray more," "worry less," and "just trust God." They weren't the ones who should've been speaking. I wondered if they knew who they were talking to and if they'd ever experienced mental illness a day in their lives.
The Damaging Impact of Not Seeking Help
I got saved at 2:30 in the morning when I was eight years old. I loved Jesus then, and I love Him now. I earnestly serve Him and live for Him in all that I do. I trust Him wholeheartedly and do everything I can to possess the mind of Christ.
I'm not perfect and exactly where I want to be in my relationship with Him, but I'm always growing, learning, changing, and adapting. It's clear I go to church, read my Bible, love God, spend time with Him, serve, and fellowship with others. Yet, I still have anxiety. I suffer from sleepless nights and a pit in my stomach called depression. There are at least seven physical health diagnoses assigned to my name. I often grow weary.
But being a Christian doesn't exempt me from human struggles. That includes physical struggles like health conditions and mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. We are not immune to tragedies of this world any more than the uncontrollable and changing seasons around us.
Not seeking help only causes these issues to boil and fester inside. It's like drinking poison, but expecting someone else to die. There's no trophy for keeping your burdens inside. No Super Star award for pretending like you're perfect when you're not.
Be Careful How You Respond to Yourself and Others
During my teens and mid-twenties, I faced round after round of verbal and emotional abuse. When my body fell ill, those around me were quick to pray, but their prayers often came across as prescriptions:
"Are you healed yet?"
"Are you trusting God?"
"Your issues are just in your head."
The answers to those questions:
So, is it okay for a Christian to seek professional services for their mental health? 1000%, yes. Do most Christians seek professional services and help for their mental health? No.
Despite the astounding research, most Christians who suffer from mental health issues like anxiety and depression don't get treatment because of fear of judgment in the church and stigmatization—a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person (eg: If you are a Christian and have anxiety it means you don't have enough faith or aren't trusting God enough).
Friends, this must change. Making a change begins with you. Just like it began with me.
The truth is this:
Almost all people need and or can benefit from counseling.
Jesus is our Eternal Counselor, but there’s also wisdom in a multitude of counselors that come from resources He’s blessed us with (Proverbs 11:14).
Your sickness is justified to talk to a certified counselor if you feel the need to talk to someone.
Well-meaning individuals in the church may not understand your struggles, but there’s no shame in needing help.
Acknowledge The Help You Need
I'm no expert on mental health. I'm still learning, researching, and figuring out my journey. But as someone who deeply cares about you, I want you to know that no matter who you are or where your journey in life takes you, you deserve help for every struggle you face.
If someone were diagnosed with diabetes, would society tell them to just pray and read their Bible more? To just have more faith and God would heal them? Of course not. They would tell them to get insulin and pray. To get professional medical help while believing in God's healing and the healing of those He's blessed us with.
As a Christian, I fully believe in Jesus and His healing. I pray that over myself and you. But I also know that God has given us resources here on earth (like medication, counseling, and therapy) to aid these difficulties. There's no shame in caring for and prioritizing your mental wellbeing. It's essential and every bit as important as your physical health. I cannot stress that enough. We can't separate our physical and mental bodies from our social, spiritual, and emotional ones.
God created us as complex human beings. Multi-faceted creatures created in His image, as bio-psycho-social-emotional-
We are body and soul.
Mind and spirit.
Flesh and blood.
And God desires for us to care for our body, mind, and soul.
Don't you know that your body belongs to God? He paid a high price for it. Death and crucifixion on a cross so you could live. Taking the sins of the world upon His shoulders so we could be made right with God and enter into eternity. Caring for your body isn't just physical. It also isn't solely spiritual or emotional.
Caring for our bodies in the right and godly way includes getting professional help when needed and praying.
God desires for us to care for our body, mind, and soul. That includes getting professional help and praying. Believing in healing, but not condemning ourselves or others when God doesn't heal right here, right now in the way we wish He would.
Let's not spread misinformation or cause those who need healing any harm.
Let's start a new generation of believers who fight their battles together—including the mental ones.
FREE PODCAST RESOURCE:
Are you looking for resources to better understand yourself and grow spiritually? You've come to the right place. Join licensed therapist Carley Marcouillier on the Therapy + Theology Podcast each week as she tackles a common question related to therapy, mental health, and faith. Listen to an episode now by clicking the play button below - and be sure to subscribe in your Apple or Spotify App so you never miss an episode:
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/lorenzoantonucci
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.