Guest Writer: Stephanie Olford
Mental health has increasingly become a topic of conversation in the world around us. Everywhere in the media there has been discussion of decreasing stress, mindfulness, depression, anxiety, suicide, and more. Often when I tell people in Christian circles about my desire to do counseling, I am asked a great deal of questions. Why are so many people depressed or anxious? How do we understand God’s plan in mental illness? How do we care for those who are suffering?
Mental illness is caused and maintained by multiple factors—genetics, hormone imbalances, nutrition, loss, stressors, and environment. However, as Christians, we maintain a different perspective. All of these imbalances and unresolved issues are rooted in one thing—the fall of man. When sin came into the world, we also encountered illness for the first time. Many people simply think of bodily ailments as a result of the curse, but it was the cause of mental illness as well. We have fallen bodies, minds, and relationships that need healing because of sin and the impact it makes on us daily.
When it comes to mental illness, people can have diagnoses that are for a season and others that are for a lifetime. In both cases, there are ways to live a life of joy and possibility. With severe mental illness, this often means medication, lifelong therapy, and creating a healthy and stable environment. Even if someone does not fully “recover” from mental illness, they can gain new skills to cope better with their illness and live a fuller life.
The point is: there is hope. In every single ounce of our being, God creates the possibly for restoration. When we trip and cut ourselves, the body heals. When our mind is sick or injured, the mind can heal itself as well. The scientific term for this is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means our brain can be changed and new mental pathways can form. I often think of this in light of Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The pattern of this world produces this anxiety, depression, and unhealthy thoughts, but God in his goodness can infiltrate the darkness of the world and our mind and make ways for healing. Our biology echoes the fact that God renews and transforms.
Then the question becomes…how can healing occur? For each person, mental health and healing is different, but there are certain things that have proven helpful in maintaining mental health. One helpful tactic is living in community. Life was not created to be done in isolation. God himself models the necessity of relationship in His own personhood of the trinity.
A second tactic is being physically healthy. Often when people neglect sleep, nutrition, and exercise, their mental stability decreases as well. All these things also contribute to neuroplasticity. The more active you are, the easier your brain can form new pathways.
Another facet of mental health is seeing a professional. Many people find this the hardest step, but often seeing a professional therapist can provide understanding, resources, and support. They can explain things in a clear way and help you make decisions on whether you need medication or further treatment. As scary as it can be seeing a mental health professional, they are trained to cater to you and be a helper.
Finally, ultimate healing comes from a relationship with God. God created us and knows us. When find our identity and security in God, no matter what happened in our past or what is going on our mind, we have a solid foundation knowing who we are in light of God and we can move forward. God can take the darkest of situations and use it for our good and His glory. I believe firmly that God can use our mental illnesses and sufferings to mold us more into what God desires us to be. Mental healing sanctifies us. This happens not because of our strength, but because of God and his restoration process in our lives.
Of course, we do not know all reasons of why mental illness occur or why certain people struggle with it, but we know God is in the business of redemption. This side of heaven you may never understand your suffering, but trust in the One who knows the full picture—beginning and end.