- What Mental Illness Is
Sometimes I just feel empty.
My body is heavy with exhaustion so that my arm flops down to the table. It’s not even that I’m sad. Just, empty. Void of emotion. And honestly, I don’t care.
Yeah, that’s depression.
Often I feel tight.
All my muscles are tense and my stomach is in knots. A hint of panic accompanies me. Sometimes my heart races… pounds away as if a serial killer is out to get it. What’s the faint feeling? And why do I suddenly have a fever?
Oh right, that’s anxiety.
Depression and anxiety, as mental disorders, are psychological conditions. They are diseases. They are illnesses. Mental illnesses, to be precise.
- What Mental Illness Isn’t
Would a loving and kind God look down on people for having an undesirable condition which he allowed them to have, and over which they have little control?
I simply can’t believe that having a psychological disorder is “sin,” or a “lack of faith.”
Call it a disability, fine. Call it an illness, sure. Call it a disease, okay.
But don’t call it sin.
It’s not something I did; it’s something I have.
I did not wish anxiety and depression upon myself. I did not choose this for my life. This is not of my own doing.
So please, stop telling me it is sin.
Sin is a direct violation of God’s divine law.
Does God require all people to be happy all the time? Does he require all people to be in a perpetual state of tranquility? Not that I know of.
I believe it is safe to say Jesus experienced psychological anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was in such great anguish that his sweat was “as drops of blood”.
When Jesus said to “not be anxious,” he was addressing the type of worry and anxiety that results from a lack of trust. This isn’t the same thing as anxiety resulting from a mental disorder. I believe anxiety can be either sinful or not sinful depending on what the root cause is. For most people with chronic anxiety, the cause is a psychological problem, not a lack of trust.
Please don’t assume you have more faith because you don’t suffer from a mental illness.
When I was a young child, I was plenty happy enough. Coincidentally, it was as I grew in faith and trusting God more that my anxiety and depression first appeared and grew. Did the younger version of me have more faith than the current version? No, the younger version simply didn’t have a mental disorder.
If faith were the issue here, then why do some Christians have anxiety and depression while some non-Christians do not?
It simply doesn’t make logical sense to me.
- God Allows This Struggle for a Reason
I earnestly believe that God allowed me to experience depression and anxiety. Through depression, God broke me to the point of desperation. When the anxiety came, instead of ruining me once and for all, God used it to draw me near to him.
My faith started with a few prayers, simple requests for respite in pain. Much to my surprise, he answered my requests more often than not. Seeing God for the first time as compassionate and personal, I began to pray for other things too, and read the Bible a bit. From there on my love for Christ grew. He showed me hope and purpose in life.
God used depression and anxiety disorders to draw me near to Himself. He may have forever remained a distant being to me. I would endure all the pain in the world for the sake of knowing God because I have seen firsthand how life is pointless without him.
- We Are People, Too
Next time you meet someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, or other types of mental illness, please choose your words carefully. I have seen many well-meaning Christians hurt people with mental illnesses by making uninformed and insensitive comments such as, “Well if you just had more faith…” or “Christians aren’t supposed to be anxious/depressed”. Our emotions may not function the same as yours do, but we have them nonetheless. Think about whether your comments will really help. Your words can soothe our weary hearts, or they can wear us down.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29