MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, April 23rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Commentary now from WORLD Radio’s Mary Coleman.
MARY COLEMAN, COMMENTATOR: In the wake of mass shootings in recent months, mental health care has garnered a lot of attention. As someone who found healing from depression after seeing a psychiatrist last year, I am heartened by the conversation taking place in the public square. I also wonder how Christians can engage in the discussion.
On one hand, the Apostle Paul offers wonderful guidance for managing our thought life. In 1st Corinthians he urges us to engage in spiritual warfare and to bring our thoughts into obedience to Christ.
He tells us in Philippians that we should think about what is “true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.” I have no doubt these truths can help us overcome anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
But what if scripture is not enough to heal us of mental illness? The mere question may seem like heresy.
I tried for decades to address my depression by using scripture and prayer alone, and both sustained me through my darkest hours. But my healing required something practical too: professional help and medication.
In fact, I made the conscious decision last year to see a psychiatrist who didn’t build his practice around Christianity. I had spent years believing that my mental illness was a failure of faith or a lack of obedience to God.
Last year, however, I realized this shame was just as bad as all of my other negative thoughts.
Turns out, a more clinical approach is just what I needed. My psychiatrist was the first person to help me understand that I am not my brain. My brain is an organ like my kidneys. I am not my kidneys. Our organs are negatively impacted by a variety of things, including genetics, our environment, and our habits. We all understand this.
It may be harder to understand that many factors contribute to mental health disorders too. In my case, my dad—an otherwise very loving father—used nit-picking and sarcasm as motivational tools throughout my life. His intimidation tactics alienated my brothers from him. His explosive anger and impatience contributed to my perfectionism and other compulsions.
Research now suggests that verbal abuse impacts brain development in children, as does childhood trauma. My psychiatrist spent very little time rehashing my past, but his medical lens helped me understand how my negative thought patterns came to be. He also provided practical tools that helped me align my thoughts with the spiritual truths I knew so well.
Mental illness is complicated. We must be careful not to oversimplify it in the name of Christian faith. The national conversation right now affirms that those who suffer from mental illness need professional care. They also need friends and family tuned in to their emotional pain, their anger, or their sense of isolation.
Christians who suffer need these things too. And we have the added blessing of Biblical truth, spiritual weapons, and heavenly hope.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Mary Coleman.