After speaking with a friend, I’ve realized that there are some misconceptions about mental health within the church body. It’s important to know that not all forms of counseling are the same. If someone is struggling with mental health issues, then they should be referred to a mental health professional first. Before moving further, I should preface that I am not a mental health professional, and can only speak from experience in battling mental illness.
I believe in the power of God and His miracles, but one cannot pray away mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and others. Modern medicine, including therapy and medication, is a miracle that we should embrace and recognize how helpful and necessary a resource it is.
As someone with a mental disorder, I can say that it’s hard to feel normal and harder to then be called out on it by people who don’t understand. I have been told many times that I just needed to pray for my emotional distress to go away and be more normal. Not fully understanding what I felt or why I am the way I am and believing that I was the problem, intentional or not, led to a long period of self-loathing, anguish, and isolation.
To know everyone else has control over their reactions and thoughts or how they present themselves at any single moment is still so strange to me. I’ve battled my own emotions for years and years, always deconstructing everything everyone does around me as a sign that I’m unwanted, unneeded, and unloved. To be constantly battling that no matter how hard I prayed made it even worse; I felt like a freak and a mistake. I didn’t even understand what I had or why my brain would reject every positive thought until I turned 23, and with that came more peace.
God didn’t hate me, and I finally understood that. Despite what I was told by my counselors, pastors, youth leaders, or even my friends about how He loved me, I could never change my thoughts. Every week, I would be back to square one. Realizing that my brain was chemically imbalanced helped. Understanding that God didn’t forsake me, He just made me different on a genetic level, has helped me feel more at ease with myself and cope with my condition better. I respect my parents’ decision to let me feel “normal” growing up and that information on my condition was scarce; but knowing what I have and what that entails allowed me to develop mechanisms to make my daily life easier, as well as medicine and therapy as I continue to struggle with it.
This is how I know, within the depths of my soul, that God gave us the miracles of therapy and medication to help us. Depression is deeper than just feeling sad, and it’s terrifying; the same goes for any disorder or condition. We cannot “fix” mental illness just by being more positive or trying harder to be normal; and prayer only goes so far. I can pray all day and night for God to get rid of an ingrown toenail, but that doesn’t change that I’d have to see a doctor to remove it. Otherwise, I would not understand what I was doing on my own and waiting for it to fix itself is just asking for more pain. One of the greatest kindnesses that we as people can offer others is listening to understand them, and denying what they’re going through or suggesting that “get over it” is a permanent solution is damaging. So, I implore you to do what you can, and if a child asks you for help, consider that they need more than just words and scripture.