When You’re Conflicted Between Your Faith & Mental Illness
I am finally in a space in my recovery where I am gradually reconnecting with God and growing spiritually. After being diagnosed with major depression (MDD) and generalized anxiety (GAD) disorders, I did not want to have anything to do with the church because of the lack of knowledge about mental health. I well say this, I do not believe that anyone who told me to do things such as pray or talk in tongues where trying to stare me in the wrong direction or hearts were impure. The people in my circle love me and want me well. But as the actress and Giants cast member Vanessa Baden Kelly stated, “You can’t teach what you do not know.” I started to pull away from church and eventually God. I did not want to listen to gospel music, read the bible or pray. My depressive episode was so severe that it led me to a suicide attempt and hospitalization.
While I am not a member of a church currently, I am working on my personal relationship with God and taking my time before I rejoin a church. I am connected with Christians who are helping me in my faith journey and am grateful to have them a part of my life. Recently, I was reading a devotional that talked about having victory in the wilderness and it addressed anxiety and how one should not be consumed by thoughts. The devotional also mentioned that if I worry then it shows that I lack trust in God. It referenced Luke 12:22-25, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens, they don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are more valuable than the birds. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” I agreed with the scripture. Simply put, God will provide me with all of my needs so there is no need to worry. However, I immediately felt convicted. But then I asked myself, why should I feel convicted when I have GAD? While we all have moments of feeling anxious in our lives because of life circumstances such as preparing for a test or job loss, I have a disorder. There are instances were anxiety may even push us to get things done or warn us about danger. However, for those of us with GAD, it is extremely difficult and at times, impossible to stop worrying. I remember being in a church service and a pastor said, “Worrying is a sin.” I wondered if he felt the same way about cancer, asthma or any other illness. I was triggered and wanted to walk out of the church. It is that kind of thinking and statements that forces people to pull away from God.
I take medication for my illness and attend therapy weekly. My illness was eventually developed after experiencing trauma and not seeking help for over 10 years. GAD stops me from functioning and performing simple tasks such as eating and sleeping. It is important to note that not every person who experience anxiety has an anxiety disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, GAD is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.
So, what do you do when you feel conflicted between your faith and your mental illness? I had to change my way of thinking and offer myself grace and compassion. I have come a long way in my faith and recovery. I had to tell myself that God knows my heart and sees the steps I have taken to pursue his heart and manage my mental health. It is the very reason why I have made it a long mission to educate the church on mental health.
Here three ways we can help merge mental health and the Christian faith:
Start A Mental Health Ministry
The ministry should include licensed clinicians who are faith-based. They are professionals who can help Christians experiencing mental health challenges or mental illness and do it in a way that is not triggering and make the person feel comfortable.
Host Mental Health Events
Events that will educate, dismantle the mental health stigma yet provide a faith-based component to serve those of the Christian faith.
Train Clergy And Those In Leadership In Mental Health First Aid
At the bare minimum, all individuals who are in leadership in the church should have a basic knowledge of mental health and become trained in mental health first aid. Each leader should know where to refer a member of the church if he/she needs counseling or is in a crisis.
Most of all, let’s practice empathy and compassion for those with mental illness. It is not made up in our heads and sometimes, it requires more than prayer to heal. In the words of therapist Patrice Douglas, “You can pray and see a therapist at the same time.”
There are six types of anxiety disorders. To learn more about the various types, visit the American Psychiatric Association.