There are many misconceptions about mental illness, within the Christian community and outside. Fruit of Brokenness is testimony that God can be glorified in and through a believer’s weakness and trials, even the brokenness of mental illness.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness refers to various conditions that affect thinking, mood, emotion, behavior, or a combination of those. Mental illnesses often affect how people function in daily life, and how they relate to others.
Here are some examples of mental disorders, and basic definitions:
Depression. Depression (also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder) is not just feeling sad. Sadness, grief, and mourning are natural emotions. We all have down days. Depression goes beyond that. It can be triggered by loss that naturally produces sadness, or can happen independently of life circumstances. Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can look different in different people. Some may overeat, while others stop eating. Many will sleep too much, while others are unable to sleep well. It affects how people think and behave, and can cause feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.
Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder is marked by the lows of depression, paired with spikes of mania. Mania can involve excitement, euphoria, delusions, racing thoughts, hyperactivity, disorganized behavior, hypersexuality, impulsivity, and reckless behavior. Bipolar 1 consists of depression and mania. The depression of Bipolar 2 can be more severe than bipolar 1, but instead of full mania, sufferers experience hypomania, sort of like mania lite. Mania and hypomania can be euphoric (giving an unreal feeling of well-being) or dysphoric (causing feelings of intense unease and dissatisfaction).
GAD. Generalized anxiety disorder is chronic experience of excessive or disproportionate worry or tension. It can be over particular areas of life, and can be experienced with or without provocation.
OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder is not just a matter of wanting to impose a particular order on things. Although an obsession with tidiness or cleanliness is often a feature of OCD, being a neat-freak does not mean you suffer from OCD. The key word here is suffer. Individuals with OCD are overwhelmed by unwanted repetitive thoughts and feelings (obsessions) that lead them to perform certain actions (compulsions). Compulsions are typically efforts to relieve the discomfort of the obsessions.
PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a long-term disordered response to the trauma of experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. It can involve flashbacks, nightmares, uncontrollable thoughts about the event(s), hypervigilance, and severe anxiety.
Psychotic disorders involve severe distortions of perception, and abnormal thinking. People suffering psychoses can lose touch with reality. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder. Psychosis can also appear in severe episodes of other mental disorders, or can be a result of a physical issue, such as a brain tumor or head injury, that affects brain function.
You may or may not have thought of dementia as a mental illness, but it is a severe alteration of brain function that affects motor skills, cognition, and memory. Although many of us are terrified of it, it’s a mental disorder that evokes more sympathy than suspicion or blame.
I’m a Christian, so the lens through which I view the world is defined in large part by my understanding of the Bible, which I believe is true.
What Does the Bible Say about Faith and Mental Illness?
There are many passages in the Bible that tell us to not be afraid, and not worry. We are told to rejoice always. Where does that leave us when we struggle with anxiety or depression? What does it say about our faith if we find ourselves stuck in unhealthy thoughts and emotions?
Because mental health disorders strike at the core of what makes us, us, they make us question our identity. We doubt not only ourselves, but also our beliefs.
But in the Bible, we find many people who display symptoms of depression, particularly among the psalmists and Old Testament prophets, Solomon, too. The psalms show us how to deal with depression: choose to worship and affirm our trust in God, whether we are feeling it or not.
Elijah is a major prophet whose story encourages me in my struggles with faith and mental illness.
When Elijah fell into depression after Jezebel swore to kill him, God did not smack him upside the head and tell him to get over it. Elijah was not cast aside as useless to serve God. God lovingly gave Him rest, then fortified him for his next step (forty days of literal one-foot-in-front-of-the-other steps!), before reminding Elijah who He is and confronting him with truth opposed to the lies and misconceptions within the circumstances that overwhelmed him.
It is a great story, and Scripture shows that Elijah’s ministry and example were still important in New Testament times, as they are today, and will be when God’s plans for the end of time are fulfilled.
In short, mental illness is not a sin. We have tools to deal with its symptoms that were not available in Bible times, but the Bible is vital for true mental health. We are not one-dimensional; our approach to mental illness and health should not be, either.
Fruit of Brokenness
On Fruit of Brokenness, I write mostly about depression, because that is the largest part of my experience with mental illness. I also write about bipolar disorder, as I have had to accept that my severe depression is a feature of bipolar 2. You will also find some posts on anxiety. I have struggled with social anxiety for as long as I can remember.
It is natural that I have doubted the reality and depth of my faith. If my faith is real, how could I get lost in darkness so profound, I despaired? I rely on medication to keep me from falling back over the edge. It is my safety net, but it is not a magic cure.
The beauty of life in Christ is that He takes all of the broken pieces we give Him, and makes them beautiful. Maybe we cannot always see the beauty, but we can choose to live in faith and trust that He will work it all out to our good and His glory.
If you struggle with mental illness, your own or a loved one’s, I hope you are encouraged by my experiences of mental illness and God’s grace.
Faith, even strong faith, does not guarantee mental health. But it is crucial to being as mentally healthy as possible. When we accept God’s holiness, magnitude, love, and wisdom; we can understand how small but precious we are, and willingly live submitted to God’s commands designed for our good. He’s our Creator, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what’s best for us, personally and corporately.
The church has a way to go to best serve in this common area of human brokenness. I write to encourage all of us in the Body of Christ to live victoriously and compassionately in all the brokenness of life.
For a Biblical approach to crisis intervention, check out The Good Samaritan and Crisis Intervention.
My brain may be broken, but in Christ I am whole.