Mental health issues and conversations surrounding mental health are prevalent in our world today. Statistics tell us that in 2021, one in five adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness. That’s 57.8 million people.1 If you have not had a personal experience with mental illness or mental health struggles of some kind, it’s very likely that someone close to you has.
As believers, conversations around mental health are especially nuanced and at times quite difficult. It can seem like because of our faith in Jesus, we have no reason to fear, feel sadness, or struggle. And it’s absolutely true that in Jesus we find incredible peace, strength, and joy. But as we’ll talk about today, we aren’t home in heaven with Jesus yet, and there is still much sorrow and sickness in our world all around us. That means we may struggle with our mental health, even if we love the Lord deeply and obey Him faithfully.
As someone who has experienced seasons of depression off and on for nineteen years, this topic is near to my heart and the reality of my daily life. I’ve wrestled with understanding mental health issues in light of my faith many times over the years. Honestly, my experience with depression has not led to a lack of faith or weak faith; it’s led to deeper faith. I’ve seen God’s kindness, presence, and faithfulness just as much (if not more so) on the dark days as on the joy-filled ones.
We can’t cover every aspect or nuance of this important topic, but let’s do our best to begin the conversation and consider what God’s Word says about mental health struggles and how we respond as believers.
As we consider all of Scripture, we see stories of normal people experiencing a wide range of circumstances and emotions. Emotions ranging from great joy to great sorrow are reflected in the pages of the Bible, and I’m so thankful God included them all in His inspired Word.
One passage of Scripture where I find great encouragement is 1 Kings 19:1-9. The prophet Elijah experienced a serious emotional crisis due to tremendous fear and terrifying circumstances. One chapter before we find the story of God’s incredible power on display as He proved His existence and greatness at Mount Carmel. The hundreds of prophets of the false god Baal called on their god to show his presence with fire on the altar. And of course, nothing happened. Baal failed them. But the one true God whom Elijah served consumed every part of the altar with fire from heaven. This was a moment of great triumph as God demonstrated His power, and Elijah had a front row seat to it all.
And yet, in the very next chapter, we find Elijah riveted by fear and running for his life. Evil Queen Jezebel had heard about what happened at Mount Carmel, and she promised Elijah that he would suffer. So, despite all that he had just seen God do, Elijah ran away into the wilderness; he sat under a tree and prayed that he would die. “I have had enough!” was his cry. He was hopeless. Exhausted, Elijah fell asleep.
Then something unexpected happened. An angel touched him and told him to get up and eat. A loaf of bread and jug of water were provided for him. Elijah ate, drank, and laid down again. The angel returned a second time and told him, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” After that meal and with the strength it provided him, Elijah began his journey to Horeb, where he would soon encounter the Lord’s presence in a powerful way yet again (1 Kings 19:9-18).
This snapshot of Elijah’s life describes emotional distress that was brought on by specific circumstances, but I think there is much we can learn about all the varying seasons of suffering we might experience in life, including those that involve our mental health.
The angel didn’t rebuke Elijah for feeling hopeless. He didn’t punish him. He didn’t tell him to have more faith or get it together. The angel provided the sustenance and rest Elijah needed in that moment. Grace and rest were found in the wilderness.
Elijah lived in a broken world of fear, sorrow, and suffering, and we live in that same world too. And yet grace abounds even in the darkest places. Though the world is broken, God is faithful, and He takes care of us in our pain.
God’s beautiful plan of redemption tells us that His great story doesn’t end in brokenness. Jesus came to earth—fully God and fully human. He lived a perfect life, bore the punishment for our sin through His death, was raised to life three days later, and He will return one day to take His children home to an eternity of peace and joy and perfect fellowship with Him.
But right now, we’re living in the “already and not yet” part of the story. God has made the way for us to become His children (John 1:12) and the promise of heaven is real and wonderful, but we still find ourselves in this broken world until He returns and calls us home. And we still experience many challenges, including mental health struggles.
The contributing factors of mental health struggles are many. Circumstances, genetics, health conditions, hormones, and brain chemistry are just some of the reasons we experience depression, anxiety, or other emotional distress. And sometimes we can’t pinpoint exactly why we feel numb, scared, or lost. We just know something isn’t right.
We can find comfort though in the truth that God knows what we are experiencing. He understands our bodies and what’s going on within them. We are remarkably and wondrously made by Him (Ps. 139:14). He also understands what it’s like to live on earth and all the struggles and temptations that go along with it (Heb. 4:14-16). Through the gift of salvation, we can approach Him honestly on the good days and the bad ones to find mercy and grace when we need it most.
I don’t always understand why God allows pain, suffering, and illness or why some people struggle with mental health more than others. But this I know for sure: Jesus doesn’t condemn us for struggling, and He does not leave us to suffer on our own. When we’re in pain, He does not turn away from us. He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He draws near to us (Ps. 34:18). He will never leave us or abandon us (Deut. 31:8). His faithful love endures forever (Ps. 136). He is strong when we are weak (2 Cor. 12:9-10). We can turn to Him and find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-30). And He also provides people within the family of God who can walk alongside us in our suffering and remind us of His faithfulness when our faith falters in the darkness.
If you are struggling today, it’s OK. God sees you, and He loves you more than you can imagine. Find rest and comfort in His presence and lean in as He cares and provides for you.
1. Mental Health by the Numbers, National Alliance on Mental Illness, April 2023, https://nami.org/mhstats?gclid=Cj0KCQiA7bucBhCeARIsAIOwr-_mryPgVr3hp8Lz9-i-aijtm5GJWQeY_Q8IM0faz9DI722oo2Q2TFAaAjFGEALw_wcB.
ABOUT TESSA MORRELL
Tessa Morrell is a production editor for Lifeway Women. She is passionate about serving in her church and studying Scripture with others. She also enjoys visiting local coffee shops, browsing in antique stores, and creating jewelry and art.