The 5 Myths Christians Believe About Mental Illness by David Lee Chu Sarchet
In this blog, I will be addressing some of the most commonly held beliefs of many well-meaning Christians. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list about what Christians believe, but instead this will be about what I have personally noticed from Christians I have either met or that I deal with on an everyday basis.
I am not here to “bash” any particular Christian.
The Christians that I know who hold to these beliefs are very kind and humble people. They sincerely love Jesus and desire to live lives that are honoring to Him. Many of these Christians are great companions of mine. However, when it comes to the topic of mental illness, these well-meaning Christians do hold to some harmful, and ignorant, views.
The views that I am talking about are as follows:
1) Mental Illness is Demonic
2) Mental Illness is the result of individual sin
3) The answer to mental illness is to just pray and read the Bible more
4) Mental Illness is just an excuse to be lazy
5) Mental Illness is not real.
In the following paragraphs, I will address each of these topics one at a time and I will dedicate a significant portion towards each of my answers to these objections. If you are a Christian who believes any of these faulty beliefs, please understand that it is because you have been taught wrongly either by someone you trust or by the media or the surrounding culture around you.
In other words, you have been indoctrinated into wrong beliefs, but I am hoping that by the time you have finished reading this blog you will no longer hold to these ideas anymore. So, without further ado let’s get started, shall we?
Belief #1: Mental Illness Is Demonic
I know this is one of the most commonly held beliefs many Christians have about mental illness. I have personally come across many Christians who have insinuated that I was demon possessed when I would disclose to them that I have a mental illness.
At first glance, this belief does sound appealing. After all, we live in a culture that desires to spiritualize everything under the sun, The problem with this belief is that not everything needs to be spiritualized.
Some things have a spiritual dimension to them but there are other things that do not have any spiritual dimension to them whatsoever. Mental illness is one of those things that have no spiritual dimension to it in any way, shape, or form. It is basically a chemical imbalance in the brain and that is all. There is no need to spiritualize this.
Another reason why this is a wrong belief is because there is not a single passage in all of Scripture to justify the claim that mental illness is demonic. Sure, there are passages that people turn to in an attempt to justify the claim that mental illness is demonic. However, upon closer examination one will notice that these passages clearly are not referring to mental illness at all.
I’ll Give You An Example:
A common passage that people use to justify this claim is Mark 5:1-20 about the man who had a legion of demons inside him whom Jesus cast out. Well, a surface level reading of this passage would seem like this is clearly talking about a man with Schizophrenia. However, that is a misreading of the text because when you read it closer you begin to notice things that are not characteristic of Schizophrenia.
For one, the man that had demons in him exhibited superhuman strength because he was able to tear apart metal chains! No mental illness will give you superhuman strength no matter how much you may want that. Also, the demon inside the man exhibited self-awareness and showed itself to be a conscious entity because it was able to communicate with someone outside of the person, namely Jesus.
When I hear voices in my head, they are not self-aware and they definitely cannot communicate to people outside of myself.
So, you see people attempt to use the Bible to justify this claim but in order to do that they must read their own interpretation into the text which is not the proper way to read the Bible. The reason why this particular belief is harmful is because if you lead a mentally ill person to believe that their illness is just the demonic then they will logically assume the solution must be spiritual and may then decide to let go of their medication. Which this would have devastating effects on their life and may even kill them.
So, in order to avoid accidentally causing the death of someone, it is best not to encourage them to not take their medications regardless if that was your intention or not.
#2 Mental Illness Is The Result Of One’s Individual Sin
This is another very commonly held belief that has absolutely no bearing from a Biblical perspective. I understand why this is such a popular belief because it offers an easy to understand answer to a highly complex problem. However, we must not be content with easy to understand answers and we must acknowledge the complexity of the issue.
While it is true that mental Illness is the result of the Fall of Adam, it is not fundamentally wrong to assume that people are struggling with mental illness because they are sinning. This is the same mistake the disciples of Jesus made in John 9 and Jesus had to rebuke them and also Job’s friends made this mistake in the book of Job and the Lord had to rebuke them as well.
The reason why this belief is harmful is because since it is offering an easy explanation the solution it offers is equally just as simplistic: stop sinning and you will not suffer with mental illness anymore. This “solution” is downright wrong because we understand that we cannot simply stop sinning according to Romans 7.
As a matter of fact, we sin every day and every moment in our words, thoughts, and deeds.
So, if we try to focus our attention on trying to stop sinning, we will only end up getting discouraged and this could possibly lead to depression too. Instead, we must constantly look outside of ourselves and look to Jesus Christ at all times no matter what is going on in life. He is our only hope and without Him we cannot truly be satisfied with anything else. Life is all about Him and His glory alone.
#3 The Answer Is Pray & Read The Bible
While prayer and Bible reading do add some benefits for the mental health community, if we rely solely on these alone to care for our mental illness, then we are destined to fail when it comes to managing our mental health in a healthy fashion.
Please do not misunderstand me here. I acknowledge the truth that in order to properly understand God and His Gospel, we need to properly understand what that means in terms of having a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. However, merely praying and reading the Bible is not a sufficient way to treat your mental illness. It takes great humility to admit that we need serious help.
#4 Mental Illness Is Just An Excuse To Be Lazy
I have heard this assertion a lot during my life and honestly it is quite offensive really. The most blatant issue with this assertion is that it confuses being unable to work for being unwilling to work. People with mental illness tend to be unable to work, but most of us want to work.
I know I personally have made an honest attempt for many years to be able to work and almost every single time I would end up getting terminated or I would quit because of my inability to handle the work due to my Schizoaffective Disorder.
Many bosses do not understand it when you tell them you need to take a “Mental Health Day Off” because you are severely depressed or manic. They also would not understand it if you told them you need to go home early due to the fact that you’re feeling an intense anxiety or are experiencing intense hallucinations.
I had to deal with this just last year because when I worked for this Refinery I was experiencing intense hallucinations but I was too scared to tell my boss about that so I ended up making up a story about my wife going to the hospital so I could leave work.
I am not the only one who felt the need to do this because of the stigma against mental health. It is pretty bad when you must make up something just so you can leave work because you cannot say what is really going on. Employers need to understand that mental illness is common and thus they should be more willing to show grace towards people who struggle with mental illness.
#5 Mental Illness Is Not Real
This is the most offensive assertion that I have ever heard from people before and it comes from this idea that mental illness is not a chemical imbalance which is contrary to the scientific evidence we have. It has been proven to be true that we have cat scans that have shown that a Bipolar brain and a Schizophrenia brain and even a PTSD brain look fundamentally different from a normal brain.
It is also known fact that certain Serotonin levels and Dopamine levels and even Cortisol levels can trigger mental illness. This is why psychiatric medication is highly effective because they restore the balance in the brain chemistry.
However, aside of the scientific evidence for mental illness, this claim ignores the millions of people who struggle with real mental illness. I know that there are days when it is almost impossible for me to get up out of bed and on those days, if I even manage to brush my teeth, it is a huge accomplishment. Also, there are times when my emotions are fluctuating so much that I cannot focus on anything because one minute I would be so animated and energetic and then all of sudden all I can do is cry.
Then, there are the delusions and hallucinations that I must deal with too. All of this make it almost impossible to get anything done and that is why mental illness is a disabling condition. Sure, it is true that mental illness is not on par with certain physical disabilities, but in a lot of ways mental illness is much more disabling than many physical ailments.
I thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I hope that it gave you some insight into the world of mental health. If you are someone who has held any of these beliefs it is alright but I hope that this blog has helped you to realize that your thinking on this topic has been wrong.
Please do not feel condemned for your thinking because in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). My purpose in writing this blog is to help Christians understand those of us who have mental illness better and I hope that Christ was honored in this too.
Soli Deo Gloria!
-David Lee Chu Sarchet
Christian Mental Health Advocate
Check out the Christ-Centered Mental Health ministry website: https://www.christcenteredmentalhealth.org/
For 24 hour peer support, please call the Christ-Centered Mental Health ministry line at 567-343-3727 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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