It's Time to Talk About Mental Health
It’s time to talk about mental health. Actually, it’s past time.
The CDC put out a report last month showing that suicide rates have risen in almost every state in the US since 1999. My state, Kansas, was among the highest increases in that time span.
Blue Cross Blue Shield found recently in their study that major depression has increased 33% since 2013. That rate is higher among millennials and adolescents. They conclude that major depression is the second most impactful condition on the overall health of Americans, right behind hypertension.
Suicide and self-harm rates are up for all young people. The percentage of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions doubled over the past several years. In my school district, five high school students took their own lives in the past year.
These numbers and others like them show what many others have already said: We have a mental health problem. Regardless of your opinion on mental health, we cannot deny we have a serious problem.
Now look, I’m not a medical professional. I’m a student pastor. And I’ve only been in the game for 7 years. But I believe mental health will be the biggest issue this generation of students will deal with in their lifetimes. I’ve seen enough to confirm what the smart people are saying. I’ve counseled the depressed high schooler. I’ve visited the student in the hospital after a suicide attempt. I’ve seen the cuts and burns on their arms and legs. And I’ve preached the funeral of the middle schooler who took his own life. We have a problem.
But for some reason, Christians don’t like to talk about this problem. I have met lots of people, most of them Christians, who are struggling with their mental health, but very few people know it. I think we would all be shocked if we knew how many people on our pew each Sunday have or are currently struggling with this stuff.
So why don’t we talk about it? Here are three reasons.
1. It’s complicated. From what I remember in college, psychology and the study of the mind is a relatively new thing. It’s a whole lot of theory and guessing. There’s a lot we just don’t know. And since so many Christians are scared of science, it’s a secular-dominated field.
Mental health is complicated because our brains are complicated. I’m totally ignorant here. But from what I understand, most medical professionals chalk up mental struggles to brain chemicals. They believe these chemicals can get out of whack, so they give people pills that increase or decrease those chemicals. Some people hop from medication to medication, never really finding a solution. Then there’s counseling, which comes in about a million different varieties.
My point is, there is no simple fix for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. Different people will suggest different things, and as a Christian, things only get more complicated. How in the world do we view all these things with a biblical worldview? I have no idea, so let’s just not talk about it.
2. It’s debated. Like most everything, Christians disagree on the solution to mental health problems. Some take the stance that depression and anxiety are purely a spiritual problem. Stop worrying and stop being so sad. Repent of your sin, have faith in God, and everything will work out.
On the other end, some agree with the medical world that it’s purely a chemical problem. Everyone who struggles is just a victim of faulty wiring. Don’t talk to me about sin or heart issues. I can’t help how I feel.
So is it spiritual or chemical? Are people who struggle victims or offenders? Is the truth somewhere in between? It’s too controversial, so let’s just not talk about it.
3. It’s personal. We live in an individualistic society. It’s my life, so stay out of it. Our health usually falls into the awkward topic category along with religion and politics. We don’t want to be perceived as needy, weak, or even worse, crazy. So we keep our problems to ourselves. It’s too personal to talk about. And what could be more personal than our inner selves? So let’s just not talk about it.
But as I said, we must talk about it. In fact, I believe our need to address mental health is even greater as Christians. Since all great points come in threes, here’s three reasons why Christians need to talk about mental health.
1. Talking is just plain helpful. I’m sure all of us have experienced this phenomenon. You are struggling with a situation and clueless as to what to do. So you call a friend, vent about all your problems, and then you magically feel better. Talking just helps. It’s good to unpack your thoughts into words and release them from your mind.
Talking also puts issues out in the open so people can have honest conversations and solve problems. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” According to scripture, it is wise to seek out advice and help. This can only happen when we talk about our problems.
2. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When another believer is burdened, we are called to help them shoulder the load. No one should have to walk through a difficult situation alone. The role of the church is to come alongside those who are struggling with prayer, wisdom, and love.
But if the church never talks about mental health, then those who are struggling will stay in the dark. They will carry their burdens alone assuming that no one understands or cares. We can’t walk alongside someone if we don’t know they are struggling. We have to create an atmosphere where people are able to share. And then when they do, we need strategies in place for helping those people in a God-honoring, gospel-centered way.
3. It’s an opportunity to point people to Jesus. I believe the gospel speaks to every area of our lives, including our mental health. We need to show people how the good news about Jesus is good news for everyone, including those who are in the darkest season of their lives.
While God is certainly a healer (Psalm 147:3), he often allows his children to suffer for his glory and their good. Many believers in the Bible and in church history experienced severe mental anguish, including Jesus who said in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles give believers an opportunity to fall on Christ’s grace in new ways. Like the Apostle Paul, they can discover that his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). For those who don’t know Christ, they have an opportunity to discover that Jesus is enough. They can begin to see the purpose in their pain and learn to glorify God in the midst of it.
Our current mental health crisis presents Christians with a choice. We can avoid this tough topic and allow those suffering in the pews to remain isolated and those suffering in the world to remain hopeless. Or we can seize this moment, carrying the broken and sharing the hope of Jesus.
I’m ready to start talking.