What might we understand in today’s global mental health pandemic? Roger Bolton considers.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34: 18
We live in a strange era, where mental health outcomes are being worsened in a world where, in principle, living conditions are progressively easing. One might think that mental health would improve rather than decline, especially in the Western world, yet the reverse is true.
27 March 2023 The Financial Times ran a ‘big read’ report on the teen mental health crisis, noting that social media companies face rising scrutiny over the impact of their ubiquitous products on the health of young people. Suicides in USA for the age 10-19 cohort surged 45% between 2010 and 2020. One in three teenage girls had seriously considered suicide in 2020, up from one in five in 2011. Figures for other western countries are unlikely to lag far behind.
Part of this is addiction to social media which is often a vector for outright or subtle bullying. As I look out of my office window (enroute to a college) I’m constantly noting children on a hand held device. I wonder whether the antics of the addictive social media apps might be described as a form of modern slavery, as young people are absolutely slaves to their smartphones. Academics claim that smartphone technology (as computer technology generally) is literally rewiring children’s brains and driving an increase in eating disorders, depression and anxiety.
The current pandemic in so-called ‘gender dysphoria’ is logically connected to mental health questions, yet throughout the Western world governments, media and educators are too frightened to make the obvious link, especially as woke corporations are now in thrall to the vendetta culture of the LGBTIQ++ movement. The day I wrote these words, Sir Kier Starmer (leader of UK’s woke Labour Party) was compelled to say that it was “ridiculous” for a child to self-identify as a cat. Yet at the same time Starmer believes a woman can have a penis (April 2023). No wonder confusion reigns! No wonder there’s a mental health crisis amongst the young and impressionable.
Power of the pew
For Christians it is, perhaps, too easy to ‘blame’ reduction of belief in/relationship with Almighty God as one reason for the dramatic increase in mental disorders, yet there must be a connection somewhere. If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom [ Proverbs 9: 10 ] then a failure to recognise and enjoy peace with our Creator – and Saviour – God will lead inevitably to poorer overall health outcomes. Let’s be crystal clear, a failure to hold a good faith ethic is not the sole cause of mental instability, yet must be a contributory factor for people who are absolutely made in God’s image, journeying in God’s world, yet living in open conflict with God. Something has to give …..
In its 04 March 2023 edition The Economist ran an article headed “Power of the Pew”, concluding that places with high religious participation suffer fewer deaths of despair. One of the tools used to secure meaningful data to back this claim was the USA’s repealing of ‘blue laws’ (= banning of commerce on Sundays). Where ‘blue laws’ have been repealed, church attendance plummeted and suicides and alcohol abuse rose. Cause and effect? The Economist (a thoroughly atheist publication) was prepared to acknowledge the link, concluding that “faith based networks provide unusually potent protection” against suicides.
In Britain back in 1994 there were warnings that relaxation on Sunday trading would entail profound social consequences – family stress and breakdown was cited as likely. Whether today’s UK mental heath and divorce epidemics can be solely attributed to Sunday trading is highly problematic, but again there must be a link. Sure enough in the UK families were denied ‘rest time’ and family time together – sacrificed on the greedy altar of mammon, just as predicted. Sabbath rest denied, social mayhem follows. Cause and effect, or just a strong suspicion of indirect linkage?
Struggling with mental health does not make one less of a person, or less of a Christian. Each individual is made in God’s Image — each person is fearfully and wonderfully made. As Christians we acknowledge that the Bible does not specifically refer to mental health, yet it does speak about peoples’ emotions, mind, soul, and their heart. Mental health is an extremely important topic that we all need to be familiar with today. When encountering those who suffer, a Christian’s first reflex must be mercy.
Sometimes in the past, Christians have considered mental problems directly and solely related to Satan or the result of demonic possession. This was unhelpful, and in a theological sense must be declared untrue, albeit there is often a spiritual dynamic influencing mental health outcomes. Many people struggle with mental health problems but this does not mean they are possessed. Nor does it mean they are not saved.
Amongst ailments associated with mental health are anxiety and depression. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 264 million people struggle with depression and 40 million people struggle with anxiety (“Facts & Statistics”).
Anyone can struggle with their mental health whether they are young or old, a believer or an unbeliever. If you struggle with mental health, you are not alone. Mental health problems – in addition to anxiety and depression – include eating disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and PTSD. Each of these illnesses can afflict a person for a variety of reasons.
It is crucial as believers, therefore, that we do not judge, belittle, or condemn those struggling with mental illnesses. Rather than condemning, Christians are to help, show kindness, and love them (John 13:34-35).
Body and Mind
An individual’s body and mind are both factors of a person’s mental health. If someone’s mind and body encounter difficulties, a person’s mental state may suffer as well. Elijah the prophet struggled with suicidal thoughts during a difficult time in his life. 1 Kings 19:4 hints at Elijah’s struggle, “While he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’”
God did not take Elijah’s life, but rather, gave him the strength to keep going. God helped Elijah by providing him with a good nap and a good meal (1 Kings 19:5-8). After Elijah had slept and eaten, he was ready to continue with the work of the Lord. While those who struggle with suicidal thoughts may not feel better after taking a nap or eating a good meal, God does not want any person to take their life.
Many people struggle with anxiety. Whilst some level of anxiety is likely to be ‘normal’, once it becomes all pervasive then it can affect mental outcomes. Doctors do not diagnose people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) unless the individual’s anxiety interferes with their daily lives.
The Bible does specifically talk about anxiety as 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God wants you to give all of your worries, cares, and concerns to Him. If you humble yourself under His Mighty Hand, you will uphold you and strengthen you (1 Peter 5:6).
Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Whenever you are struggling with anxiety or fear, pray in the Name of Jesus. He can help you let go of anxiety and will give you strength. God is always faithful, and you can always depend on Him. Only Jesus gives the true peace that surpasses all understanding.
Another common mental health problem people can struggle with. Having the diagnosis of depression does not make you less of a Christian or less than a person. Remember, nobody is less than a person if they suffer any type of mental illness.
Depression is very common and can be caused by genetics, internal conflicts, or a person’s environment. God walks alongside us as we struggle with depression. David writes in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
God is always with you — no matter where you find yourself today or any day in the future. God can turn your sadness into dancing (Psalm 30:11). While an individual’s depression may never be cured in this lifetime, when the believer goes to Heaven, there will be no more sadness as the believer will be with Jesus forever.
There is nothing in the Bible specifically on eating disorders. There is much, however, said about taking care of your body. The Bible tells us that our bodies are temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God does not want anyone to destroy their body by restricting food, purging food, or over-exercising.
Each individual is made in God’s Image (Genesis 1:27). Similarly, each person is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16). Eating disorders can be triggered by the world we live in, where ‘beauty’ is equated with thinness and restriction.
This, however, is not true beauty. God looks at our hearts — not our outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). Eating disorders are rarely about vanity, despite stigmas surrounding this illness. Eating disorders are normally a coping mechanism when an individual feels their life is out of control.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder today, know that God loves you just the way you are and that you are beautiful. Eating disorders can receive treatment from trained doctors and eating disorder therapists.
Fill your mind
If you are struggling with mental illness, there are several things you can do. As stated previously, it is important to seek help from doctors, counsellors, and therapists. These should be able to point you towards optimal care [ there’s probably no such thing as perfect care in mental health systems ] to help you feel better and be more productive for the Lord.
The Bible tells us we should fill our minds with good things. The Apostle Paul urges us to think on the positive rather than the negative. He states in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
Whenever you feel anxiety, panic, or depression rising, think about the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.
When you feel negative thoughts encroaching, expel them by refuting them with Scripture. It is vital that we put on the full armor of God to take our stand against the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18). I’m speaking here to believing Christians. For non-Christians a first step in peace with God is to answer Jesus question to the apostle Peter “Who do you say I am” [ Matthew 16: 13 ]. The answer to this question will determine how we live our lives, and mental health outcomes will be wrapped-up in some way with that answer.
Reciting, memorizing, and meditating on Bible verses can help you feel better, realign your thoughts to God, and help you better fight off anxiety, negative self-image, or depression. Praying to God about any struggles you have will also be beneficial to you and strengthen you. Remember, you are made in the image of God [ Genesis 1: 27 ] .
Not a sin
Having a mental illness is not a sin and does not mean you are any less of a Christian because you suffer in this way. Ultimately mental illnesses, like all illnesses, are a result of the fall of Adam. If you struggle with mental illness, doctors, therapists, and counsellors are there to help you. No one should go through life on their own, especially if they struggle with a mental illness. The term “mental illness” has a stigma about it, but understand that God can help you live a life of service to Him. Even though your mental illness may not be cured during your life, God will be with you through it all. Seek Him!
This is a useful resource to help us consider the spiritual dynamic that may well be at play in mental health troubles. https://www.gotquestions.org/mental-illness.html . Note that many mental health clinicians deny any such connection as they hold an atheist worldview. Nevertheless as Christians we do, and must, recognise the spiritual dynamic of a world that is best characterised by the one word, Babylon. This rebellious Babylon world must be compared to the world that God offers us, which can be summarised by the one word – Jerusalem. If we inhabit Babylon there will be costs in the political and social spheres, in the world of health, in the world of relationships and (directly or indirectly) in the world of mental health.
The Bible gives some guidelines on attaining and retaining good mental health. We have a description of the healthy thought life in Philippians 4:8. We have Jesus’ example of taking breaks from the busyness of life to focus on spiritual matters (Luke 5:16). He called His disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31). We have Paul’s acknowledgement that physical exercise is profitable (1 Timothy 4:8). Self-care, both physical and spiritual, is a necessity.
God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). He works all things together for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). The testing of faith produces endurance and maturity (James 1:2–4). Mental health struggles, while they are difficult, are not pointless. The Bible clearly shows how God can and does use them for His glory: https://www.gotquestions.org/mental-health.html