There is no question faith is the cornerstone on which religion is built. Christianity in particular focuses on faith and prayer to change circumstances, or at the very least, provide the strength to move though difficulties. In the past, those who turned to medication to help fight mental health issues like anxiety and depression were often considered weak and guilty of a lack of faith. Yet despite increased awareness and overwhelming clinical research, one third of Americans – and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians – still believe prayer and Bible study alone are enough to overcome mental illness.
In a recent tweet, Justin Puch of KP Family Counseling asked “Should Christians take antidepressants?” Answering his own question, Puch linked to an interview with John Piper, author and founder of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
In the interview, Piper points out the flawed logic of discounting the validity of medication for mental health issues when contrasted with the acceptance of using medication for physical ailments or disabilities. In the video he says, “My answer is this. When you start working with people’s minds, you are in a very tricky and difficult situation. What I think I want to say is that while nobody should hasten toward medication to alter their mental states…I know from reading history and dealing with many people over the years that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.”
In the wake of Matthew Warren’s suicide in 2013, Ed Stetzer wrote a powerful blog addressing the need to radically change the way the church approaches mental illness. Stetzer, who is well respected in evangelical circles for his expertise in missiology – the intersection of the gospel, culture, and the church – encourages churches to be deliberate and mindful in their cultural engagement, particularly toward those who have felt marginalized by the church’s view of mental illness. In his post on The Exchange, Stetzer shares a painful, personal example of his own naiveté as a young pastor whose only training in dealing with depression was to “pray it all away.” The inadequacy of this mindset became tragically clear when a young man in his congregation, a man Stetzer recalled loved God with all his heart and had prayed earnestly to overcome his battle with depression, took his own life. That was a turning point in his ministry and led him to understand that equating mental health with spirituality deficiency is tantamount to spiritual abuse.
Through Stetzer and other like-minded church leaders, individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders or even suicidal ideation are finding hope rather than judgement within the church. Plus, the rise of social media has made finding a counselor that incorporates prayer and other elements of faith into sound, clinical counseling easier than ever. A quick search for “Christian counseling” on Facebook brings up a list of counselors and counseling centers. Users can choose the search parameters to find one locally or nationwide.
Although general practitioners can prescribe antidepressants, anxiety or other medications related to mental health, a wiser choice is to consult a highly-informed and ethical psychiatrist. Someone struggling with heart disease would receive the best care from a cardiologist, someone who spent years studying the heart, likewise, someone struggling with depression will receive the best care from someone who has studied the brain. Web MD’s Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling can help differentiate between psychiatry and psychology as well as other streams of mental health services like psychotherapy, counseling and social work.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health issues, use these resources to find a licensed clinical counselor in your area.