Mental illness is nothing new.
The Bible records many instances of people afflicted with mental illness. King Saul, the first king of Israel, was repeatedly afflicted by what we would term ‘clinical depression’ today. King Nebudchadnezzar became insane, eating “grass like cattle [and] his hair grew like feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird” (Daniel, 4:25-35). He was on the ropes of insanity for seven years and would probably be considered schizophrenic today. The Psalms depict the sufferings of David and his laments express severe depression and anxiety.
The afflictions of these characters show that mental health can affect us in deeply spiritual ways.
From my own experience and struggle with mental illness, anxiety and depression separated me from God. Instead of seeking Him in my turmoil, I went the SSRI route. I took Lexapro, an antidepressant, only to find myself in a more empty, numb, and emotionless state. I lost connection with myself and God. I did not know how to navigate excessive anxiety that plagued every part of my life and believed that in order to feel normal, I had to take antidepressants. I was anxious over my appearance, my commitments and responsibilities, my mental state, and how others perceived my faith. For a while, I found myself running away from God and doing unhealthy things to myself—ignoring these problems only made them worse.
I am not saying that medication or counseling is unhelpful. I highly recommend seeking that kind of support if that is what you need—they can be God’s means of grace for you. The Center for Student Counseling and Wellness, in fact, has been a great resource for me. However, I now realize that at the heart of my mental afflictions there was something deeper that therapy or antidepressants could not fix.
Through everything, I have found that God is my best counselor. As Philipians 4:6-7 states:
Let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Journaling and surrendering my anxiety to God has helped heal my heart and relationship with God. I have been led to consider what 1 Peter 5:7 says:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
I am led to consider the tools we are given to combat spiritual affliction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we are told:
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
We face not only external forces in our walk with Christ, but also the thoughts and passions within that lead us astray from the safety of His arms. The most important battle Christians fight is neither physical or mental. Rather, the strength and conviction of our faith is being continuously tested through spiritual warfare. It is vital for us to make choices that will nurture the faith, rather than open up ground to Satan.
As of now, I’m still not completely free from my anxiety. But I make a conscious effort to commune with God about what is afflicting me. I have found that writing prayers of lamentation, although difficult, is the best way for me to express the complexity and magnitude of my anxiety. Transparency with God has allowed me to accept His love.
I hope that whatever it may be you face, you can press into Him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11: 28-29