Mental Health & the Church: Where do We Begin?

Hi, my name is Stephanie.

I have known and loved Jesus since I was a little girl. I am a pastor’s daughter. I’m involved in my church and youth ministry. I work in Christian ministry. And I struggle with both depression and social anxiety.

Anxiety. Depression. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Eating Disorders. Manic Depressive (Bipolar) disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Maybe some of these names are unfamiliar to you, especially since many of them just aren’t hot topics in most Christian circles. Thankfully, many people and churches are opening up to the discussion of mental health, without blaming the disorder of these disorders on a person’s faith or “lack” thereof.

I know that as I struggled with my depression and anxiety over the years, I was afraid to open up about my experiences, my pain, my frustration, and honestly—my hurt over not being able to open up about it. I’d heard (and overheard) so many discussions about depressed and anxious people. Here are some common themes that emerged:

  • “You just need to pray more, and ask Jesus to fill you with His joy.”
  • “Stop worrying. You know the Bible says worry is a sin. He can give you a peace that passes all understanding.”
  • “Maybe she just needs to work on her relationship with Jesus.”
  • “Is there any sin you haven’t confessed to the Lord? Maybe that’s why you’re struggling.”
  • “How can you be depressed when the Holy Spirit dwells within you?”
  • “Why are you so anxious? God will be with you. “Fear not” is one of the most common commands in the Bible.”

I felt shamed by the church, by my God, by His Word. And I hadn’t even told anyone I was struggling.

img_6391In undertones of these questions and comments I heard: “You won’t struggle with depression and anxiety if you love Jesus enough and spend enough time with Him, because He will give you a peace that passes all understanding and fill you with His joy. And that is enough.”

I concentrated on this one word: Enough. Enough. Enough. You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t love God enough. You’re not praying enough. You’re not in the Word enough. You’re not trusting Him enough. You’re not confessing enough. Enough. Enough.

Enough! My heart screamed. I grew tired. And tired of dealing with all the mess and shame on my own.

Let me stop for a minute and tell you this: I don’t think people intentionally make those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other disorders, feel like outcasts. Still, these comments were the reason I stayed quiet and avoided counseling for so long. I didn’t want to face their judgment or criticism, especially as a pastor’s daughter.
But that didn’t end my struggle. Silence is a silent killer. Just as you can only fill a trash bin with so much stuff before it overflows, you can only allow yourself to fill with so much hurt before it overflows either in actions toward others or actions toward yourself.

So, what can we—the church, believers, women of God—do about it?

  1. Be aware. Realize that there are probably people within your own church, your own small group, maybe in your group of friends who are silently suffering. Monitor your comments and conversations concerning mental health.
  2. Know your stuff. Be informed about the facts of mental health. Know that mental health issues are often caused or worsened by a chemical imbalance, things beyond our control. Realize that sometimes medication and counseling are necessary, just as doctor visits and medicine are necessary for healing physical ailments.
  3. Be compassionate. If someone decides to share her story with you—listen. Don’t try to tell her what you know or what you think you know. Just be there, without judgment, without criticism, without telling her what should be different in her relationship with God. Showing up for others, in love, is a huge encouragement when they struggle.
  4. Be open. Things don’t change until people know there’s a problem. I know it’s hard, because I’ve been there. But for those of you who struggle, open up to people you trust. Let them in on just how difficult some days are, tell them about the times you struggle to get out of bed, or the times your fear seems overpowering. The more common we make our struggle to the church, the more common it will be for the church to open up her arms to us.

By some of the comments here, you may think I don’t believe God helps with mental health. Hear this: I would probably not be here if not for my relationship with the Lord. His peace did soothe my anxious soul. His joy did help lift the depression. But sometimes, He simply gives us the people and the tools to help each other find healing.

Over the next few posts, I hope you see my heart and the truth about mental health and its relationship with the church, as well as how to reach out to the young women in your church who might be struggling.headshot

Stephanie Livengood is North Carolina native, living in the Nashville area. She is an editor and freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her family and friends—preferably in the outdoors. You can follow her on Instagram @s_livin_good and keep up with her life and writings at stepsy.co.

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