A study of Christian church members who approached their church seeking help for a personal or loved one’s mental illness showed that 32% were told by their pastor that they or their loved one didn’t really have a mental illness. Instead they were informed that the root of the problem was spiritual rather than mental.
When faced with a debilitating mental illness, Christians often choose to seek help from clergy members before seeking medical help. According to Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Texas, who led the study, “Those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don’t have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication. That can be a very dangerous thing.”
It’s only natural, as Christians, to view mental illness through a spiritual lens. However, dismissing the physiological component of mental health disorders can prevent healing. Just as it’s important for Christians to receive mental health treatment that incorporates spirituality, it is equally important for spiritual leaders to understand the potential healing power of secular mental health treatments.
It’s important to understand that the mortal world is far from perfect; if it was perfect there would be no need for God’s grace. The Bible, following Adam and Eve’s exit from Eden, is replete with stories of powerful spiritual leaders who endured physical hardships. Our gifts of the spirit are bound to our mortal bodies and thus, any mental illness might not be seen as a manifestation of our own sin but rather as an indication of a fallen world so vividly described by Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“ …Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. “ (Romans 5:14 NIV)
Paul describes death as having entered the world through sin. But death, in this sense, shouldn’t be merely seen as the end of life, but also as an end to Eden’s perfection—thus encapsulating all physical and mental ailments.
Therefore, given this world’s imperfections, it is often up to us to seek physical comfort while simultaneously turning to God and our clergy leaders for spiritual guidance. Clergy members and physicians should therefore work together to promote Christian mental health.