Do demons and demonic forces cause depression and anxiety? If you grew up in certain church circles, you may believe the answer is yes. In the past, before we had a more accurate understanding of depression and anxiety as mental illnesses, the Church’s answer has been to pray away the demon causing someone to feel depressed or anxious.
We wrote about this topic recently in an Instagram post, so we wanted to discuss it more here on the blog. I believe that spiritual oppression is real, and it may be a factor in someone’s mental health struggles. However, I think that the Church does a disservice to Christians when we only address mental illness as a spiritual issue.
In this blog, we’re going to explore mental health and religion, the causes of mental illnesses, and what the Church can do to help members who are struggling.
The Causes of Mental Illnesses
There are a number of reasons that someone may experience a mental illness in today’s world. The causes can be biological, psychological, or environmental.
A hereditary mental illness, where it runs in the family, is an example of a biological cause. A chemical imbalance in the brain is another common biological cause, and it can often be treated with medication.
A psychological cause is when someone experiences poor mental health after going through a traumatic event. For instance, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis that is often linked with depression or anxiety.
Many soldiers come back from fighting in a war with PTSD, and in 2020 it was reported that 20% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience mental illness. Childhood trauma and neglect are other psychological causes of mental illness.
What about environmental causes? They have to do with the environment that someone lives in. For example, growing up in a dysfunctional home with a lot of fighting can cause a mental illness. Moving around and changing schools often is another environmental cause.
These examples just scratch the surface of the reasons why someone may deal with a mental illness. Knowing this, what can the Church do to help Christians who are struggling with their mental health?
What Can the Church Do?
The first thing the Church needs to do is move away from the idea that mental illnesses are solely caused by spiritual oppression or demonic forces. This message makes struggling Christians feel like they aren’t doing enough to please God, which further contributes to poor mental health.
It also puts the blame on the Christian. They may ask themselves what they did to invite a demon into their lives and feel guilty when they are actually the victim of a disease. Instead of getting the help they need, Christians try to root out all of the sins in their lives in an effort to feel better.
Often, this leads to striving in their faith instead of resting in the Father Heart of God, and it can lead them to feel even worse. This cycle of shame and guilt does not actually help Christians heal from mental illnesses, it just perpetuates the problem.
The next thing churches need to do is talk about mental health openly instead of shying away from it because it is a hard subject. Mental health should be discussed from the pulpit, in small groups, and in leadership training.
Mental Health Training and Resources in the Church
Church leaders should take mental illness seriously and spend time studying the causes, symptoms, and impact of a mental illness so that they can provide helpful resources for their members. For instance, what if they recommended counseling when a member opened up about their mental health struggles to them?
Thankfully, we know more about mental illness today than we ever have, so there are plenty of training resources that church leaders can use. I think it’s also helpful to understand how mental illnesses can disguise themselves. For instance, a happy church member who joins every single volunteer team may seem like a pastor’s ideal member, but they may be hiding their depression by trying to be useful.
The more that church leaders learn about mental illness and recognize the signs, the more they will be able to help those who are struggling in their congregation. Did you know that non-Christians are more likely to seek help for mental illness than Christians? I believe this is due to the stigma on mental health in the church.
Churches can break the stigma by offering readily available resources and education that members don’t feel embarrassed about seeking out. For example, the church website could list local counseling services, doctors, books, podcasts, and other resources that members can access anytime. Additionally, the Church should never shame anyone who needs medication for a mental illness.
Authentic Community and Prayer
It’s also important that Christians struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness feel seen and heard in their community. A church should offer ways for them to plug into community groups where they can share their experience and seek prayer.
Final Thoughts on Mental Health and Religion
There are several Bible verses, like Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7, that can comfort Christians who are struggling with a mental illness. We can also see that many people in the Bible struggled with their mental health, such as Jonah, Paul, and David. However, God did not abandon them, and He will not abandon you.
While turning to the Bible and prayer is an amazing way to combat mental health issues, it’s crucial that the Church also promotes other treatment options. To do this, the Church needs to recognize the numerous causes of mental illness and provide helpful resources to its members.
The stigma against mental health in the church shouldn’t stop Christians from getting the help they need anymore. Everyone deserves to feel seen, heard, and supported through trials with mental illness. Schedule a one-on-one ministry session with me if you need someone to talk to about your mental health or traumas.
Author: Anna Harris