Mental health is essentially defined as a state of emotional well-being characterized by flexibility, adaptability, the ability to cope effectively with issues that arise, and sufficient social connection to provide support during difficult times. We believe it’s important to talk openly about mental health so that we will seek those attitudes, beliefs, and, behaviors which develop mental health in us. We also want to confront the stigma that still exists around mental health issues, to promote openness and honesty on the subject, and to encourage a willingness to seek help when it is needed, without fear of judgment from yourself or others.
People of faith sometimes look at mental health issues as a moral failing or a lack of sufficient faith. However, in making such a judgment, they unknowingly drive people who struggle with these types of issues into hiding, thereby removing access to one of the hallmarks of mental health (social connection) and making their problems worse. Consider this sentence: “John struggles with depression because his faith isn’t strong enough.” Now, substitute diabetes for depression: “John struggles with diabetes because his faith isn’t strong enough.” Doesn’t make sense, does it?
Jesus told us in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), so why are we surprised when people have struggles? Jesus never promised to prevent difficulty in our lives – He knew we would struggle. What He did promise was to walk alongside us through those difficulties, to love us in the midst of them, and to bring redemption as we process them with His help (“suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope” – Romans 5:3-4).
At times, we hear individuals talk about “praying away” anxiety or depression. This statement doesn’t consider the complex nature of these issues or the interaction of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and historical components that go into their development. Are faith and prayer important components in dealing with depression and anxiety? Certainly. Current research shows that faith is a beneficial factor in several mental health issues, creating greater resiliency, faster recovery, and more post-incident growth. However, this research assumes faith is an element used to help process the issues, not to avoid them by “praying them away.”
When we think about faith and mental health, we consider Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. etc. – they all prayed diligently, but they partnered their prayers with action. God desires partnership with us in all things – God acting in concert with us. In fact, we would define faith as belief and trust in God joined with action in accordance with our belief and trust in Him. By the example set in Scripture, including by Jesus, we are to pray and act based on God’s leading and guidance – not pray and wait on God to do it for us. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. He never intended prayer to be like sending a wish list to Santa Claus. Prayer is a vehicle God provides through which you can develop and grow your relationship with Him. He is there to provide you strength and courage to ask for help, to face your issues with all the resources available to you, and to guide you through the process. you through the process.