The concept of mental illness can be troubling to many Christians who don’t understand the physical, emotional, spiritual, and physiological effects. Because the symptoms are not readily apparent through bloodwork, ultrasound, or other concrete method of measuring the problem, some dismiss mental illness as something from which we can pray our way free.
God does make miracles happen, and if God chooses to cure someone of mental illness, He can certainly do so, just as He can choose to cure someone of cancer, diabetes, or other physical ailment. Prayer does work.
But does that mean it’s wrong or unbiblical to seek medical solutions for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other emotional or mental disorders? Is it OK for Christians to take medication for mental illness?
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What Is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is defined as a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior. The Mayo Clinic notes that mental illnesses encompass a wide range of mental health conditions—disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.
Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.
Mental illnesses affect men and women, people of faith and people without, and can occur at any age. Some people are born with a mental illness, while others develop a mental illness because of a traumatic experience, such as a war veteran or rape survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Decision to Take Medication Is Personal
As with all medication, the answer to whether to take medication for mental illness or not is entirely personal. But it all comes down to the understanding of medication as a gift from God through His servants—the doctors, scientists, and researchers who developed this medicine.
Just as God chose to reveal cures or relief medicine such as insulin for diabetics, chemotherapy for cancer patients, and more, God also chose to reveal cures for issues that impact the mind. Scientific advancements have come a long way in the 20th and now the 21st century, both for ailments of the body and the mind.
If you would consider taking medication for an ailment like cancer, ask yourself why you feel differently if it is a disorder of the mind. Perhaps your decision is rooted in bias and judgment instead of fact. Or perhaps you choose not to take any medication at all, whether for cancer or depression—it comes down to personal choice.
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Mental Illness, Like Cancer, Is a Newer Discovery
One oft-cited argument is that there is no direct mention of mental illness in the Bible. But the Bible was not written today—and there is also no mention of diabetes, cancer, COVID-19, or other similar diseases. The Bible was written at a specific time many, many years ago. Much technology has developed since then, enabling humans to understand ailments we never understood before. For instance, we used to think epileptics were possessed. Perhaps some people exhibiting seizures were indeed possessed, but many others were having seizures because of the neurological disorder in their body termed epilepsy. Today, medication can treat this issue.
Similarly, people with depression were thought to be “melancholy” personality types, or people who did not yet know the joy of the Lord, and people with schizophrenia were assumed to have demons. This is not saying demons didn’t possess people in the times of the Bible, nor is it saying demons don’t do so today, but it does mean we cannot merely write off all emotional and mental disorders by claiming demon-possession or lack of faith. Many non-possessed people of great Christian faith struggle with mental illness. The reality is that people in the time of Moses—or the time of the apostles—didn’t know enough yet about modern science to understand, let alone write about, all the ailments and afflictions that impact human beings.
Are There Stories of Mental Illness in the Bible?
A number of people in the Bible are thought to have struggled with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses and mood disorders.
David battled deep despair throughout much of his life. Many of the psalms reflect this.
For example, in Psalm 143, David writes, “So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. … Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit” (v. 4, 7).
In 1 Samuel, King Saul was so depressed he had outbursts of misery and fury (1 Samuel 16-20).
The entire book of Lamentations is one big expression of the Israelites’ depression over the fall of Jerusalem.
The prophet Jeremiah is thought to have struggled with depression, lamenting his fate with lines such as, “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:18).
Judas Iscariot, devastated with guilt and shame, committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5).
The prophet Elijah begged God to take his life at one point (1 Kings 19:4).
And Jonah sank into severe and rather angry depression after his ordeal over God’s decision to spare Nineveh (Jonah 4:1-11).
Mood disorders are nothing new, even if they weren’t defined back then as “depression,” “anxiety,” or something else.
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What Does the Bible Say about Medicine?
Doctors today often prescribe medicine to provide pain-relief and even healing from various ailments. In Bible times, treatments also existed. For instance, the apostle Paul urged his mentee Timothy to drink wine instead of water for his frequent stomach trouble and other health issues (1 Timothy 5:23). And lepers and others with illnesses would frequently gather at Bethesda, a pool in Jerusalem, for healing (John 5:1-9).
Some of today’s most prescribed medications come from God’s own creation—think penicillin, which comes from mold.
Jesus is known as the Great Physician (Mark 2:17). As part of the Triune God, His healing needs no medication. His miracles defy explanation.
But God also gifts human beings with certain gifts—including healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).
Certainly God can heal without medication, but He has also given us the gift of medication. It’s a personal choice.
If you are struggling with whether or not to take medication for a mental illness, do know that medicine does not fix everything. With other illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, relief and longevity often come through spiritual healing and physical wellness, including exercise, stress-relief, and good nutrition. Counseling can also play a huge role in wellness and healing.
In his letter to the early church in Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Whatever we are putting into our body, good or bad, natural or not, think about its effects and whether or not this is the best option for you according to God’s wishes. Pray.
And then have peace.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Pamela D McAdams
Originally published Tuesday, 10 August 2021.