As Christians what should be our understanding of mental health?
As believers we first need to identify that the WORD of God is truth( John 17:17 ). It is the ultimate truth. Often times
in our society we look to the science of man or our collective knowledge to verify truth, and use the Bible
as a back-up. For example, let us look at creation. Many have a hard time believing that the world could be created in 7 days because many scientist tell them that it must have been millions and billiions of years. Instead of looking at what the Bible says as truth, and then measuring up everything else around it, many look at the scientific report as truth and then try to change the Bible to what the science of man is telling us. The WORD of God is truth and it is our standard. Science is just a matter of knowledge and I trust the one who has all knowledge or is omniscient(omni(all)- science(knowledge)). God has all science or put another way all knowing. Man can err in his conclusion or interpret data wrongly, God cannot.
What is Mental Health?
I'm first a Christian because I have accepted Christ as my Savior, I have confessed Him with my mouth, and I believe
He died and rose from the dead for my sins. I claim Jesus as my Lord & Savior. Though I am a licensed clinical social worker, I am first a Christian and it shapes my perspective the most.
So what exactly is mental health? Well let us first look at the word health and keep it simple. When you think about
health and wellness, you think about things working as they are suppose to. For example, let us look at physical health.
If you have a cold, or if you have a virus, you are likely not healthy or well because your body will most likely not be working as it is suppose to. Your lungs may cough often, which is not normal, in attempts to expel foreign agents. Your blood pressure may be up and your temperate may be elevaated as your body tries to fight the infection. All of which would be reasons why you are not healthy or well because your body is not operating as it is suppose to.
Now the same concept applies to mental health. Unlike physical health in which we look towards our the health of
our physical organs. With mental health we look more towards ones emotional health. So for example, a normal person
who is emotionally healthy should be able to go to the bathroom wash their hands and come out. Now, a person who
is emotionally unhealthy may return to that bathroom 10 to 20 times and wash their hands repeatedly. This is what we would call in our society someone who has obsessive compulsive tendencies (or disorder, OCD). This label is given to describe the nature of the emotional(mental health) impairment that is present. Similar to how you might diagnose a person whose blood pressure is over 120/80 with hypertension(or high blood pressure) to describe the aspect of the physical body which is impaired, this is the same with mental health. Mental health diagnosis are labels describing what aspect of the mental or emotional aspect of the person is impaired.
Here is another example. A person may be hearing voices or seeing things that others cannot validate in the physical realm. We would call these hallucinations. Such a person may be diagnosed under one of the many classifications of Schizophrenia, or as having a psychotic episode. Once again, that diagnosis would be describing the nature of the impairment to one's emotional or mental health.
Mental Health epidology
It is very important to mention that unlike physical illness or diagnosis which have a physical cause, mental health
issues do not. For example, if you have the flu, this is because you have an actual physical flu virus inside of your body. But if someone is diagnosed with Major depression, there is not a bacteria, virus, or even physical state of the mind that is the reason for the depression. We see this all the time because a mental health diagnosis is not a matter of taking a blood test as with physical illness, rather it requires a trained person going down a checklist to put you into a category base on your behaviors. Mental health issues have many cause, a person may be depressed because of the death of a love one, they may be depressed because they lost their job, or even because they desire more out of life and feel like a failure. Though their depression or emotional state may affect their brain and change it chemically over time, this is a matter of an effect of the depression not the cause.
The mind is powerful and depressive symptoms regardless of the cause may rewire the brain and can be seen through the changes in the neuro-transmitters in our brain. The fact that the way we thing can change our brain chemistry should not be surprising to us as Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Paul tells us that when we renew our minds, we can be transformed and this literally happens as well in our physical brain. Once again it is important to realize that mental illness does NOT have ANY genetic or physical signature or thumbprint, such as a virus or a bacteria. The illness can result in changes in the brain but are not brought about(caused) simply because of a physical state (excluding traumatic brain injuries, autism spectrum disorders, etc)
When it comes to medications to treat mental health issues, medications work by trying to force the change in one's body through chemicals. So for example, let's say that I'm a normally happy person. My body would normally release dopamine into my system which often makes us feel good. Now imagine I get depressed because let's say I think I am worthless and God doesn't love me. Someone going to the doctor and just taking medications would have dopamine (or another neurotransmitter) altered in their body to bring about the happy feeling in a sense, without dealing with the root cause of why I was actually feeling sad in the first place.
For this reason, medications can only treat mental illness and do not cure They don't target the root of the problem because the root is not physical(excluding birth defects and traumatic brain injuries, etc). Since mental illness is not caused by a physical biological signature, drugs which only work in the physical realm, work by trying to force the body back into balance. However they don't deal with the problem of the soul causing the pain.
Slightly bad example, but this is for some who may not want to hear as much of the clinical analogies. Imagine you are feeling bad because your girlfriend dump you and emotionally you want to hurt yourself. Now imagine that cake is your favorite food, and cake just releases good dopamine in your body. You go to the doctor because you are depressed and want to hurt yourself and the doctor gives you cake to eat(pill). You eat the cake and you feel better. Later you wake up the next morning and you start feeling bad again about your girlfriend, so you take some more of your medication (cake) and you feel better again. As long as you are eating the cake your body feels good, but when you stop you feel sad. This is how medications work with mental health. They do not cure the problem, they only treat it, however, they treat by forcing the body to feel better and often times there are side effects. Since they don't cure or kill a virus or bacteria as with physical health, you have to take these mental health drugs for the benefits and when you stop taking them you don't get the benefit. With the cake example, you might get fat, with real medications you see the side effects are numerous and can be fatal.
We live in a world where everyone wants quick results and medications can bring about results. I'm not totally anti-medication but I am pro-education. People should understand how they work and what is really happening. As a therapist I have worked with over 100s of clients(kids and adults), and I have worked with psychiatrist that prescribe meditations. I believe that often times medications are used as a crutch to not deal with the underlying issues as to why the mental health imbalance is there in the first place. My experience has shown that medications should not be the first resort and if they are used, the plan should be to use them for only a short period of time while engaged in therapy. The medication if used(though most of the time not recommended) should be use with the goal of getting off the medication and returning to one's normal functioning without the medication.
Something is lacking
Physically speaking you may have poor vision because of a vitamin A deficiency in your body(you're not getting enough), but when you are depressed(or have any other such mental health issue), the problem is not because of a prozac deficiency in your body. When our bodies have everything they need chemically, our physical health is good. In the same light, when our souls have all the love, joy, and peace, that we need, our mental health will be good. If a person is diagnosed with impulse control disorder and has anger issues, it is not because His brain has a deficiency of a certain type of medication, he however be be deficient in self-control or have other spiritual issues affecting His impulse. We were made in such a way that when all the vitamins and minerals are present our physical bodies are healthy. This is the same with mental health, when our souls have the love, sense of security, and peace that they need, and if nothing is lacking, our soul health or mental health will be well.
Now going back to the Bible. We should realize that if it was not for sin, this world would be perfect. Let's remember,
everything started perfect and God said it was all very good. Therefore, as a Christian we must understand that
if not for sin, there would not be any mental health issues. So ultimately we have mental health issues because of sin.
I'm not saying that if you are suffering with mental health issues is because you committed a sin, but I am saying that if we were back in the garden, and Adam and Eve never sinned, there would never have been the need to classify these mental health issues because their would be none.
(1) Sometimes Mental health issues can be brought about by demonic activity. The Bible tells us that the enemy tries
to steal, kill, and destroy. He wants to steal our joy and make us depress, kill or dreams, and destroy our self control.
When these attacks are successful in the spiritual realm, we see the consequences and categorize them as mental health issues. We see this with Legion(Mark 15:5), the man possessed by many demons, who exhibited classic, textbook, schizophrenic behaviors. Fortunately God revealed to us that He was this way because of the evil spirits which were on Him. If we didn't know better and He lived today, we would have put poor Legion in a mental health clinic, pumped him up with medication, and never once rule out the possibility of demonic activity.
(2) Not all mental health is a result of a demon. Sometimes mental health is not because of evil spirits but just because of our fragile souls which are not perfect and susceptible to the tribulations of this world. For example if I am severely and depressed because my dog died, my mental health issues may not be because of a demon. I may just simply have been very attached to my dog and because of my fragile emotional state end of becoming depressed. It would not have been because of a sin I committed necessarily or because of a demon that entered me, but because of my fragile emotional state of my soul. A fragile emotional state that I would have not had at all if it wasn't for the fall of man and entering of sin into the world. The fact that sin has entered this world and we are born stained in sin means that we are suspectible to become unhealthy (mental health) because of how our soul respond to the death, pain, hurt, tribulations, and other stresses in this world because of sin).
With or without demonic activity, notice that pattern of mental health and spiritual bondage and relate to a suppression of the fruits of the spirt in us.
Love (when there is little love in us anger issues can affect our mental health)
Joy (when our joy is attacked mentally we get depressed)
Peace (when our peace is attacked we have issues of anxiety)
Patience ( when our patience is in bondage we have impulse issuse)
Kindness (when our kindness is suppressed narcissitic tendencies come out as we only think about ourselves)
Gentleness ( when gentleness is absent or in bondage we can have mood issues or be harsh or cranky)
Faithfulness ( when faithfulness is poor in us, our conduct and loyality is poor as well, anti-social disorders, etc)
Self-control ( when self- control is suppressed many problems as a result)
Now you should ask yourself this, did Jesus have any mental health issues? We'll of course not. He was God and He
was perfect. Also His Spirit was the Spirit of God and everything He did was according to what God wanted Him to do. We however do not do all that we need to do or respond how we should.
Also, when we understand that the spiritual reality is more real than the physical reality we will be able to see mental health issues in a different light. People often fail to realize that as human beings we are one. We may have a physical body and a soul and a spirit, but they are all affecting each other.
Physical can affect emotional(soul)
I can bruise your physical body with a punch, and that could bruise your emotional health
and cause you to become depressed or sad.
Emotional can affect physical.
I can share with you good news that you won a million dollars and your soul
can become over joyed and excited. This can cause your heart beat to
increase and even blood dopamine into your brain. Exercise is also another
way to release dopamine.
Spirit can affect the soul
A person can become saved and have God's Holy Spirit come and live in them which
can bring about a new way of thinking and better control of their thoughts and emotions.
Treating the symptoms not the problem
I think about some of the youth I work with who are in sexual sin. They are unaware that because of their fornication, they are inviting demonic activity to have control of their emotions. So you have a girl who is depressed
because she sleeps around and spiritual her soul is stained, but she doesn't know this. So instead of
dealing with this issue at the core, by stopping the promiscuity, she goes to counseling, takes medicine to
help, all the while still living in sin and still allowing demons to ravage her soul. The moment she stops taking
the pills the damage state of her soul is revealed as issues of depression or low self worth show up. These may be linked to her sexual sins, but she may have no idea that is why she feels worthless and therefore continues with the band-aid.
We are holistic people with body, soul(mind& emotions), and spirit (where God resides).
To truly treat people we need to treat them holistically. Obviously any lasting change
will require the Holy Spirit to be living in that person, from that foundation other problems in
the mind and emotions(soul) can be truly healed.
It is possible to treat someone without them having the Holy Spirit in them but their ability to stay
well over a long period of time becomes very uncertain. Remember mental health issues are not about some virus or bacteria that you kill and now you are cured of the illness, it is a matter of the will, one's way of thinking, and ones' ability to cope with stress, etc. So as a therapist I can teach a client to think positively to help them overcome some negative thoughts that are bothering them, but if that person doesn't know Jesus, how long will that change last if ultimately their trust and security is in themselves or a pill?
Once again I'm not saying medications are totally bad. I am saying that they should not always be the first resort. Issues of nutrition and exercise should always be considered in any treatment plan. Medications if used should be temporary
(except for extreme cases of mental illness where other spiritual issues have been ruled out)
and the goal should not be to use the medication for life but to return to a state when you were
functioning without them.
Some people have had to take medications since birth(early childhood years) because of austim, developmental disorders, etc, such individuals may at times continue taking meds into adulthood.
However, for those who can remember a time when they were functioning in a mentally healthy state
without the aid of medication, the goal should be to return to that state of functioning(healthy without
If we truly believe what is in the Bible, let us not forget that Jesus can heal and cure anything, regardless
of the severity or the onset of the mental illness. Sometimes he allows it so the cure can happen for His glory, other
times it may be a thorn in the flesh. I don't know, as each person's case may be different. All I know is Jesus is able and as Christians we should always seek to be treated holistically. Don't leave Jesus out of your treatment plan meetings.
He is our lead physician.
Wala-Neh Labala, LCSW-C
Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical