Over the centuries, the church has not had much to say about mental health. What has been said has been mostly pejorative, labeling mental health challenges as failures of character and faith. Most Christian communities today remain poorly equipped to respond to the increasingly urgent mental health needs in our communities. Oftentimes, those who struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health disorders are told to simply pray more or read their Bible more.
A close reading of Scripture, however, shows us that mental health challenges are everywhere in the Old and New Testaments. Even the most revered biblical figures exhibit signs of emotional distress and trauma--among them Elijah, David, Naomi, Job, Paul, and Jesus himself. Our mental health, in all its glory and messiness, is integral to our humanity, and should be an area of deep concern for the church.
The lack of a robust and compassionate theology about mental health impacts us all in some way. One out of five adults has a mental health disorder. Nearly one-third of Americans will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and about 15 percent will struggle with depression. Even if you do not experience mental health challenges, someone close to you will. Within communities of color, this lack of faith-based support can be an added burden to the cultural and societal barriers that prevent us from openly discussing our mental health or finding the professional care we need.
Every individual’s journey of mental health is unique. We cannot speak to everyone’s experience here; nor do we want to provide medical or psychological advice. Our hope is to present a framework of faith and Christian community that wholly integrates mental health into our identity, discipleship, spiritual practices, service, and calling. We want to fully live out Jesus’ exhortation to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).
The inner workings of the human mind, while astonishingly complex, are no longer the black box they once were. We understand now that mental health challenges are primarily genetic, biological, or trauma responses; we see that our minds require care and treatment, just as our bodies do; we know that those of us with mental health disorders are whole, beloved individuals with tremendous gifts in wisdom, empathy, and more.
Jesus suffers alongside, embraces, and loves us no matter how strong or vulnerable our mental health is. Our call as his followers is to do the same for one another.
If you are in the US, and you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, we encourage you to make use of these excellent resources, which are available 24/7:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ (online chat)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration1-800-662-4357 (treatment referral and information)
National Youth Crisis Hotline1-800-448-4663 (for interventions for sexual abuse, child abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts)