You Cannot Pray Mental Illness Away
Natasha Montgomery | Counseling I Christian Counseling Associates | M.B.S. Whole Health I Plano, TX I McKinney, TX | Grapevine, TX
The conversation about mental health is just beginning to be more than a mere whisper. We are beginning to see characters on our favorite shows talking to a therapist. Our favorite actors, actresses, and musicians are starting to become more open about their experiences with poor mental health and making the decision to seek counseling. We have also witnessed the devastating effects of famous individuals who have decided to end their lives; which has raised awareness on the importance of mental health care.
Even with the increased discussion surrounding mental health, there is still work to be done to help individuals to value their mental health as they would their physical health.
Similar to most, I am guilty of indulging in watching reality tv. I was recently watching an episode of the reality show Mary Mary which follows the lives of the two-gospel artist Tina and Erica Campbell. In this episode there was a scene where Tina’s husband presents to her concerns that their daughter may be dealing with depression. It was Tina’s initial reaction that she was not going to “speak that over her daughter” and how this just could not be true. Her reaction showed that she thought depression was only a trick of the devil and it just needed to be prayed away.
This scene made me consider how many believers in the church may be struggling with their mental health; they could be dealing with depression, anxiety, overwhelming stress, grief, mood instability, or even thoughts of suicide. What can these individuals do to get support if their fellow believers response to their cry for help is “don’t speak that over your life” or “that’s just the devil playing with your head” or “just pray and have faith and it will all go away”.
I’d like to pose a few questions. If someone stood before you with a broken leg, would you tell them “don’t speak that over your life”? If your child has boils covering their body, would your response be, “just pray and have faith and it will all go away”? What if you were diagnosed with cancer would you say, “that’s just the devil playing with your head”?
If we look at the example that Jesus set, we will see him throughout the Bible healing the physical needs of individuals in order to truly touch the spiritual. Healing was essential to the ministry of Jesus because healings offered indisputable evidence that He is the Christ of God. Healing was also essential to the ministry of Jesus because He envisioned healing as a physical symbol of forgiveness. Matthew 9:20-22, Matthew 9:35, Mark 2:9-12, Luke 17:12-16, and John 9:6-7, are just a few examples of how Jesus addressed physical ailments and through healing brought glory to the name of God.
From a psychological stand point we will consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which states that the basic needs for human survival must be met before one is able to care for their higher level of needs (i.e. intimacy and spirituality). Individuals who are hungry, broken, or depressed need their physical and/or emotional pain addressed before they are able to be fully open to spiritual healing.
God created us to be in community with one another, to support one another, and to utilize our gifts to help one another. When we react out of faith instead of fear, we will be more willing to be compassionate to each other.
Here are a few ways that believers can begin to understand and embrace mental health care?
Understanding that mental Illness is just as important as physical illness: Just as you would attend to a health issue, mental health needs the same level of attention. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief, mood instability, thoughts of suicide are not a sin; these are illnesses that need to be addressed and healed. Ignoring an illness does not make it go away, ignoring symptoms can intensify the pain and prolong the healing process.
Put feet to our faith and releasing the fear: People are not as comfortable talking about mental health issues which can lead to fear, shame, and avoidance. We often fear what we do not understand, and this fear can paralyze us from addressing the issues. Mental health issues aren’t new, and it isn’t exclusive to any specific race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic background. Being willing to start the conversation with openness and acceptance will keep us from struggling alone. We must follow the example of Christ by being willing to meet the basic needs for human survival, to include addressing both mental and physical illness.
Realizing your limitations: As believers we are given the gift of prayer which is essential to our belief and power through Christ. However, it is also important to know that prayer cannot be the only tool to combat mental illness. We have to be willing to embrace being open to talking about struggles fellow believers face surrounding their mental health. You cannot pray mental illness away. We have to be willing to remove the stigma attached to mental illness and become comfortable with seeking help from a mental health professional; that begins with getting to know the Christian Counselors, Coaches, and Psychiatrist in your area.
As believers we have to remember not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please take the time to find a local mental health professional who is qualified to walk with you toward your healing.