5 Mental Health Misconceptions in the Church

Crosswalk.com Contributor
Updated May 30, 2024
5 Mental Health Misconceptions in the Church

When I hear about misconceptions within the church regarding mental health issues, I can’t help but think there’s some misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misapplication of Scripture. I also can’t help but think that two Christians can disagree on the fundamentals of topics, such as mental health issues, with bits of truth in each of their thoughts on the topic.

While we all like absolute truth and want to be the ones who hold that truth, we need to consider that two things can be true at the same time. Varying views on the topic of mental health are perfect examples of this. We should all strive to enter into mental health conversations with an open mind and a willingness to hear those who think differently.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I offer you five misconceptions we tend to find in the church surrounding conversations about mental health. I offer my thoughts based on my experience as a biblical counselor, not a medical professional. I pray the following thoughts will help guide you in future conversations surrounding this very important topic.

Photo Credit: ChatGPT/Image created using DALL.E 2024 AI technology

Slide 1 of 5
A church building, 68 percent says the government should not get involved in the church

1. Misconception: The Church Doesn’t Understand Mental Health

Discussions on mental health can get tricky because this terminology covers such a wide range of issues. After a long, stressful day at work, a long night with sick, restless children, or a long week cramming for exams, someone might say their mental health is suffering. Someone else might reserve the talk of mental health for someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, OCD, or bipolar disorder.

In other words, when broaching this subject, it’s helpful to define our terms and understand that there is a spectrum of mental health conditions. It’s also helpful to give grace to those who lack understanding or education on this subject. We shouldn’t expect everyone to understand or empathize in the way we want them to because everyone enters the conversation on mental health with their own definitions, experiences, and preconceived notions.

If you open up to someone in your church about your mental health and their response is less than desirable, don’t respond by cutting this person off. Don’t respond by never talking to anyone else about your struggles. Don’t allow yourself to deem the church as an unsafe place for mental health issues.

Instead, take the time to explain, educate, and even lovingly challenge the feedback you received. Do this with love, respect, and humility. Do this while reminding yourself that because we don’t have complete knowledge, there might be some nuggets of truth and helpful application in the response you didn’t like. Remember, mental anguish is on full display in the Psalms. The Bible and the church understand mental health more than you might think.

Photo credit: ©Nagesh Badu/Unsplash

Slide 2 of 5
Woman crying

2. Misconception: Your Mental Health Issues Are Your Fault

A common response people get to a mental health crisis is the “just do more” mindset. Just pray more. Just read your Bible more. Just read this book on depression. Just spend more time with fellow Christians. You get the idea. Just do more. Though based on good intentions, this mindset implies that the sufferer is doing something wrong. And if the sufferer would just do these other “right” things, all would be well.

As Christians, we should find help and comfort in the Lord. So, when someone sends a sufferer to the Lord, they are offering the absolute best solution they know to offer. I hope sufferers in this situation can find some semblance of appreciation in the gesture and try to let go of the unintentional implications.

In the spirit of Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” do your best to assume that the person pointing you to “do more” is doing so with good intentions. You may be talking to someone who lands on the opposite end of the mental health spectrum, and they are pointing you to what worked for them.

The reality, which many don’t understand, is that those who suffer from mental illness often struggle to feel the joy of the Lord as others do. They often feel neglected or ignored by God after crying out to Him yet finding no immediate relief from their suffering. Faith is a gift given by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We know this is true, yet it remains a mystery. The same can be said about the mystery of a Christian who struggles with mental illness and rarely, if ever, feels the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a problem to be fixed by simply doing more.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Mindful Media

Slide 3 of 5
Man crying in a support group

3. Misconception: Your Faith Must Be Weak

Our mental and spiritual health often overlap, and it’s okay to admit that our spiritual and mental health have a mutual impact on one another. However, making the blanket statement that mental health issues are a sign of weak faith is irresponsible, hurtful, and wrong.

Consider someone who has slipped into depression after the loss of a loved one. Could there be a spiritual component to how they respond to their grief? Yes, there could be. But it’s also true that they are experiencing normal sadness. The emotional, physical, and mental toll brought on by grief is to be expected and does not have to be an indicator that their faith is suffering.

The reality is that ALL professing Christians have areas of weakness in their faith. We see a father humbly exclaim this truth in Mark 9:24. It’s okay to remind someone of this if they point to your faith as the cause of your mental health struggles. It’s okay to acknowledge that leaning on the Lord more might help you live with the mental health struggles you have while also acknowledging that the source of your mental health struggle is something else entirely.

If you share about your mental health struggles and the response you get is to blame weak faith, it’s likely the person you’re talking to has never experienced a mental health struggle. Remind yourself of this before you deem them toxic and unsafe. And honestly, be thankful, for their sake, that they don’t fully understand what they’re talking about.

RELATED PODCAST: Rachel unpacks six simple steps to take when the words won't come and you can't pray. If you've found yourself in a place where words fail you, then allow Rachel to be your prayer guide on a beautiful prayer journey. 

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Drazen Zigic
Slide 4 of 5
Pastor comforting a congregant

4. Misconception: You Should Just Trust God More

I was diagnosed with OCD in my early twenties. As a Christian, I’ve grown to see the connection between my trust issues, including a lack of trust in God, and some aspects of my OCD tendencies. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest to make those connections because more than one thing can be true.

Do I think the onset of my OCD was a result of not trusting God? No. But I can see ways my lack of faith, trust, and reliance on God have impacted my tendencies and have played a part in my struggle with OCD. Can I trust God more? Absolutely. Can every professing Christian trust God more? Absolutely. Does a wavering trust in God have to be the foundation of my diagnosis? No.

Consider a woman who experiences PTSD after being assaulted. She understandably has trust issues and may have what appears to the average person to be irrational fears. Might leaning on the Lord more and learning to trust Him help this woman in her healing process? Yes, I would say so. Does this woman experience PTSD, trust issues, and irrational fears because she wasn’t trusting in the Lord at the moment of her assault? No. She’s responding to being threatened and violated.

I don’t think the average person would conclude that had she had unwavering trust in God at the time of her assault, she would not currently be living in fear. Yet it’s logical to conclude that deepening her reliance on the Lord now would help in her healing process. I would argue that one way the Lord redeems the horrific things that happen to us is by drawing us to Himself and allowing us to deepen our dependence on Him (Psalm 34:18).

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/PixelCatchers
Slide 5 of 5
Woman taking prescription medication medicine for mental health

5. Misconception: Taking Medication Is Wrong

I’ve heard some churchgoers push back against taking medication for mental health issues by saying that Jesus is enough. He’s all you need. And that’s true. His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). He is our only hope in life and death. And yet, the Bible doesn’t command or condemn medical intervention when it comes to our physical or mental health. In other words, taking medication is a wisdom issue, not a sin issue.

Taking medication, for some, is a must in order to function in this life. And if that’s you, then take your medication without hesitancy and without guilt or fear of judgment. For others, though, medication is used to dull an emotion, such as grief. Medication might be necessary or helpful for a season, but the grief will still be waiting to be dealt with once the medication stops.

This is why medication is a wisdom issue, not a sin issue. For some, medication is necessary, and for others, it is not. It is up to each individual to assess their mental health, with the guidance of their medical physician, and to decide if medication is right for them. Each individual must weigh the risks and benefits and decide if deeper issues need to be addressed and, if so, when and how.

We must remember that Jesus isn’t a pill, and your pills aren’t your Savior. Jesus is needed by all; medication is needed by some. And remember, taking medication can actually be a faith-building exercise. Consider Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. He cried out to the Lord in his medical distress. The Lord graciously extended his days and offered healing through a fig cake. Hezekiah applied the fig cake to his physical sores, all the while depending on the Lord for healing to take place.

Conversations about mental health are important, and we need to keep having them even when it’s hard and hurtful. We must hear those who disagree with our point of view just as we want them to hear us. It’s also important to flesh out our thoughts on this topic because sometimes we are unintentionally caught up in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and misapplication of Scripture.

It’s important to remember that when someone points you to Christ, it’s because that’s the only place they know to point you. I hesitate to think that a fellow Christian would intentionally dismiss your struggles or condemn how you’re dealing with them without just cause. They are likely speaking from a heart of inadequacy and are making a beeline for the rock and refuge we are so blessed to have.

Mental health is an area we will all continue to learn about and grow in our understanding. Information changes, and with it, our thoughts and understanding. But one thing we can all agree on is that the Lord cares about your mental health. He sees your distress and hears your cries. He is the author and perfecter of your faith; He will carry you through.


A Few Not-So Stereotypical Thoughts on OCD

4 Reasons Why the Church Needs to Reform Its Teaching on Mental Illness

4 Truths People with Mental Illness Need the Church to Know

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/AsiaVision

Beth Ann Baus is a wife and mother of two adult sons. She is a freelance writer and author of Sister Sunday, My So Much More, and His Power, Our Weakness: Encouragement for the Biblical Counselor. In her writing, Beth often pulls from her own experiences of abuse, anxiety, depression and OCD. Beth has a heart for homeschooling, women’s ministry, and is an ACBC-certified Biblical Counselor. She loves serving alongside her husband and pointing couples to the Word for strengthening their marriages and home life. You can find more from her at www.bethannbaus.com.

Originally published Friday, 24 May 2024.