A Christian Teen’s Guide to God and Mental Health
Let's lift the stigma on mental health and take a look at what Christians can do when depression and anxiety arrive.
Mental illness is one of the major concerns of young people these days.
Studies show that in Australia, 1 in 7 young people aged 4 to 17 experience a mental health condition in any given year, and up to 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime.
Mental illness, like physical illness, is a condition that we don’t have much control over. We can’t just ‘snap out of it’, and unlike just having a bad day or a worrying experience, depression and anxiety can linger for a long time, even when there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to feel that way. Some scientists now believe that mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains.
Christians haven’t always been very good at talking about mental health. So today, we’re going to try and take a better look at the relationship between God and mental health – turning to the pages of the Bible, and then looking at what we can do practically if we or our friends experience mental health issues.
What does the Bible say about mental health?
Our world is broken
Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that due to our sin, the world is broken, and none of us are immune from this. All of us are going to experience pain and suffering while we live in this broken world, and mental illness is a part of that.
The Bible acknowledges mental illness
While the Bible doesn’t explicitly name depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder or anything like that, there is definitely evidence in the Bible of people struggling with their mental health.
The Psalms, for example, are chock full of verses expressing severely negative emotions, as people like David cry out to God in their pain and grief. Psalm 38 is a good example of this, with verses like these:
All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbours stay far away.
God invites his people to express their pain and suffering to him, and he listens. David concludes his Psalm in recognition of this:
Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Saviour.
We ought to care for our bodies (and brains)
While God wants us to ask for his help when we are in pain, we are also encouraged in Scripture to take care of our bodies – and by extension, our brains – when we need to. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan is praised for taking care of the physical needs of the injured man – he doesn’t just pray and walk by. We should be encouraged that when we face mental illness, seeking support from professionals is a good thing.
Let’s get practical
Now that we’ve seen what the Bible says about mental health, let’s consider some practical ways we can manage mental health.
What should I do if I am experiencing mental health issues?
If you’re experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety, firstly know that you are not alone. So many Christians have experienced what you are going through. Your mental health struggles are not a reflection of the quality of your faith or of your status before God.
Secondly, make sure that you seek professional help as soon as you can. In Australia, for immediate help in a crisis you can call Lifeline on 131 114. In the USA, call 1800 2738255. In the UK, call 08457909090.
If you’re not in an immediate crisis, make an appointment to see your doctor or the counsellor at your school as soon as you can. In Australia, you can access up to 10 Medicare-subsidised appointments with a psychologist each year, which is a great blessing. Ask your doctor to prepare a mental health care plan with you if you’d like to go down this route.
Your doctor may want to put you on medication. Make sure you are aware of the potential side effects, but know that going on medication is not a sign of failure or weakness – it can be just what you need to help your brain get healthy again.
Next, you should tell some trusted Christian friends or family members about what you’re going through. Ask them to pray for you, that God would heal your mind and help you get back to a place where you feel mentally healthy. Ask them to check in on you.
Though you might find it hard to reach out to God at this time, remember that he wants to hear from you. You could spend some time reading through the Psalms or praying with a friend to help you remember that God cares for you and listens to you.
What should I do if a friend is experiencing mental health issues?
If a friend confides in you that they are struggling with their mental health, you should take this seriously. Your friend obviously trusts you a lot, so respect and honour that trust and don’t gossip or share their confidential disclosures with others.
However, if your friend is in immediate danger, or at risk of suicide, please tell someone who can help immediately, whether that’s a parent, teacher or leader at church. You can also call a helpline like Lifeline on 131 114. In the USA, call 1800 2738255. In the UK, call 08457909090.
Next, use the information above to encourage your friend to seek professional help. You could offer to go to the doctor or counsellor with them, if you think that would help them to feel more comfortable.
If your friend is a Christian, offer to pray for them. If they aren’t a Christian, you can still offer to pray, of course, but just make sure you aren’t perceived as pushing your faith on them at a time when they are vulnerable. Make sure you pray for your friend, whether you’ve told them you will or not!
If your friend is a Christian, make sure you’re careful with your language. Saying things like “worry is the opposite of prayer” are not helpful for people experiencing mental health issues. Acknowledge their struggle and help them to remember that their illness is just that – an illness.
Finally, try and make it as easy as you can for your friend to continue coming to church or youth group. Don’t make them feel guilty if they’re not up to it – you wouldn’t judge someone for being sick with the flu and not coming to youth group! But gently encourage them and remind them that they will be in a community that loves them, cares them and support them.
Breaking down the stigma
There is still a significant stigma around mental health in Christian communities, mostly due to an incorrect belief by some that Christians shouldn’t experience mental health issues if they trust God enough.
That’s why it’s so important that we continue trying to break down that stigma. If you’ve experienced mental health issues, talk about that at your church and with your Christian friends. Encourage your friends and leaders to do research around mental health. And try and eliminate language that alienates people with mental health issues, like teasing someone who is really neat for being ‘OCD’.
Churches should be places where everyone feels welcome and comfortable and loved, no matter how the brokenness of this world is affecting them.
Questions to consider
- Have you ever experienced a mental health issue? How did it affect you?
- Read Psalm 38. What sort of emotions does David express?
- What should Christians who are struggling with mental health issues do?
- How can you help a friend with mental health issues?
- Have you ever heard people say things that demonstrate a stigma around mental health? How can you help fight against this?