Christians hold many misconceptions about the causes of mental illness. These misconceptions about mental illness often leads to the stigmatization of those who suffer from a mental health condition. It also prevents many from seeking help from professional mental health specialist for fear of being labeled “weak.” Some Christians have suffered at the hands of well-meaning Christian leaders. These leaders sometimes end up prescribing some form of “deliverance” as a cure for a mental health condition based on their belief of its cause.
The first step in moving toward a healthy mental state is addressing some of these misconceptions. We will focus on four misconceptions in this article.
Mental Illness is the Result of Personal Sin
The thought that mental illness is the result of personal sin tends to segregate the individuals suffering, presenting a picture that they may have done something wrong to be undergoing this ordeal. The Bible clearly states that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23). For this theory of sin to stand, since all have sinned, all should experience a form of mental disorder. The truth is that with the fall came death, and this death includes physical death, sickness in our bodies, and even in our minds. Job’s friends could not understand why he was suffering so much, so they concluded that he must have sinned. Although he said he was innocent several times, they held strongly to their philosophy that suffering (of any kind) is the result of personal sin.
There are instances where people’s poor choices may predispose them to developing a mental health condition such as the development of psychotic symptoms as a result of abusing certain substances. This is however not the case in many instances. Mental health professionals are in the best position to determine the possible cause of an individual’s mental illness.
Mental Illness is the Working of Demons
The belief that all mental illnesses are the working of demons is inaccurate. The Bible talks about Jesus casting out demons from a man who exhibited signs of mental disorder (Matthew 8:28-34). In another story, we read about Jesus casting out demons from a boy who often was taken up by demons who threw him into the fire and water (Mark 9:14-29). It is imperative to know that every bad thing that occurred in Biblical times was considered the work of the devil or God. Modern-day medicine will diagnose the young lad as suffering from EPILEPSY, a neurological disorder that is characterized by convulsions and is manageable with medications. This is not to say that demons cannot make an individual exhibit behaviors similar to symptoms of some mental illnesses; it means that we should not conclude that they are the cause of all mental disorders.
Prayer and Fasting Alone Cures Mental Illnesses
Prayer and fasting is usually the recommended solution chosen by many Christians for mental disorders. These fasts are usually lengthy and are often prescribed by church leaders for the individual seeking help for their psychological problems. Christians often quote Jesus’s word “this can only come out by prayer and fasting”(Matthew 17:21) to justify these actions, but Jesus’s response was to the disciples who wanted to know why they were unsuccessful in casting out the demons from the boy. It was to them He said, “this can only come out by prayer and fasting,” meaning they were the ones to engage in these activities (prayer and fasting) if they wanted to be successful in casting out demons.
There is power in prayer and fasting for every believer’s need but there is no reason why it should be the only solution for mental health conditions. God has given humans knowledge which is evident in the advance technology and medical interventions presently available for various medical conditions. If Christians are comfortable visiting a doctor for an ear infection or diabetes, why not for issues of the mind? It is interesting to know that the therapy used by David to treat Saul’s psychotic symptoms was music therapy ( Samuel 16:14-23). Music therapy is an evidence-based therapy for the treatment of several mental health conditions.
Christians Who Have A Mental Illness Have Weak Faith
The belief that Christians who have a mental health condition do so because their faith is weak, does not have any Biblical backing. There are many examples of godly men who had various mental health illnesses.
King David is a good example; the Bible calls him a man after God’s heart, yet he suffered severe bouts of depression(the book of Psalms tells it all). C.S. Lewis, a man of great faith, also had his share of struggles with depression.
Job was so depressed he became suicidal! All these men (and many more men and women) had a strong faith, and yet they still experienced challenges with their mental health. It is worth noting that the presence of sickness is not always the result of a lack of faith. Elisha, who wrought several miracles, died from a sickness(2 Kings 13:14). In Philippians 2: 25-28, Paul writes about a co-worker who was ill and almost died so much that Paul experienced great anxiety!
It is important that Christians begin to pay attention to the many beliefs we may hold about mental illness and mental health in general. The time to challenge long-held beliefs about mental illness that do not agree with scripture is now.
We will love to hear about other misconceptions that were not mentioned in this article. Please write about it in the comment below, and remember that God wants us all to prosper and be in good health even as our soul prospers (3 John:2).