By: Lisa Horn

As a young and impressionable teen, I sat on the floor of our church hall and listened to one of our church leaders tell us that the only therapist we need is God.   A few months ago, I sat in one of my favourite coffee shops opposite a close friend and confidant. “Maybe if you just trusted in God more, your anxiety would go away”.  And just yesterday, I watched a video that stated that depression results due to being overwhelmed by sin.

Stigma around mental illness is older than the Catholic Church. Although I’m sure that people share these beliefs with the best of intentions, believing them has at times pushed me further away from God in times when I needed him most.

Here are a few of the main misconceptions I’ve encountered:

  1. You don’t need a therapist, you need Jesus

If I were to fall and break my leg tomorrow, I am almost certain none of my friends of faith would question my need for crutches, a cast and possibly even surgery. Similarly, it would be expected that I receive medication to make the pain more bearable and that I attend physio to help me strengthen the muscles that have been injured. I seriously doubt that anyone would suggest I just go to church more often in order for my leg to be healed. Yet, for some bizarre reason, when it is the brain that is implicated, people seem to believe otherwise.

WHY? I think we often don’t realise that mental illness is far more than just negative thinking, being nervous or irrational behaviour. My very basic knowledge from second year psychology informs me that mental illness is NOT something we bring on ourselves, but rather something that occurs due to a chemical imbalance in our brains.

A switch in our brain has been flipped. The wiring is faulty.

The pain of mental illness can be excruciating and the emotional bruises can take a while to heal.  God has gifted us with the medical knowledge and therapists that can help us work through our pain and teach us how to look after our mental health.  God has given people these talents to help us through the suffering of this world and He wants us to seek the help we need. 

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all and everyone one it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12: 5-6)

That being said, God should always be our first port of call. Matthew 6:33 reminds us, “Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. From my own experience, there was a period in my recovery where I had sought out all the medical help I needed – I was medicated, attending therapy and trying my utter best to get better. This worked for a while, however, eventually the heaviness came creeping back and I just couldn’t understand why. I was doing everything right wasn’t I?!  I eventually realised that this was God’s way of tapping me on the back and reminding me that I can’t and don’t have to carry this cross alone. Suffering isn’t from God but He can use it to draw us closer to him. I’ve heard it been said that “suffering gives you x-ray vision into the suffering of others.” Perhaps, God is using your suffering to strengthen or develop other gifts – gifts such as empathy, compassion and counsel. This may be your particular cross. If it is and you offer that suffering up to Christ, you can rest assured that your treasure is growing in heaven.

“That which is laid on the altar is altered” – Marianne Williamson

  1. Your mental illness is due to a lack of faith

If I trust in God, then why am I so anxious all the time? If I know God loves me, then why do I feel so lonely? My life is perfect, being sad is just ungrateful!

These thoughts may be familiar to you. The thing about mental illness is that it doesn’t require things to be wrong or stressful in your life for it to occur.  A textbook definition for clinical depression is when it occurs PARTICULARLY when things appear to be going well – when we have “no reason” to be sad.  This relates to the faulty wiring I was talking about. There is something physically wrong in the brain that we can’t control. It’s not because you aren’t trying hard enough. It’s not because you are sinning too much. It’s not because you’re ungrateful and it’s certainly not caused by a lack of faith or a lack of trust in God.

I’d also like to add that doubt, anxiety and loneliness, perhaps on a different level to those experiencing mental illness, are part of the human condition. You don’t have to have a diagnosed condition in order to justify these feelings. They are completely NORMAL and I challenge you to find a human being that hasn’t experienced them before. It doesn’t mean you are a “bad Christian”.  It means you’re human.

We are promised time and time again that God has our back and that we have no need to fear, to despair nor to be anxious. HOWEVER (note the capitals and bold please): this does not mean that the pain you experience in this life is invalid. God does not roll his eyes back, thinking “what weak humans” every time we feel overwhelmed. This is because God understands pain that we cannot even begin to fathom.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” – Hebrews 5:15

  1. You need to be ‘cured’ before you can be Christian

My God, my god, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22)

I think we should all take a page out of David’s book. In this psalm David is being honest. It’s ok to be honest. Its ok to tell God how you feel – trust me, he can handle it. God knows us to our core. He knows the ugliest and the most undesirable parts of us and yet still he loves us. He loves you during your panic attack. He loves you when brushing your teeth is too hard and he loves you during the tears. There is no criterion for God’s love. There is no level of coping that you have to achieve before he loves you. However broken you may be right now, he loves you and is waiting patiently for you to come to him.

 

 

 “Lord, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love. Bless us with your strengthening power so nothing may frighten or worry us. We trust that in living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.” (St Ignatius of Loyola)


About Author: Lisa HornImage-2

A sweet-toothed Speech Therapy student at the University of Cape Town. I have a penchant for coffee, dogs and French language and culture. I am happiest outdoors, asleep or in adoration (sometimes the latter two unintentionally coincide). I hope to one day walk the Camino de Santiago and swim in every ocean on Earth (apart from the Antartic #nothanks)