*Please note that this story contains a reference to self-harm.
Ignoring it won’t make it go away
I grew up in the church, the daughter of a pastor to be exact, and mental health was not a topic that we discussed. It wasn’t that my family was even the most extreme in terms of avoiding the topic of mental health, but, sadly, the church as a whole created an atmosphere in which the struggle with mental health was viewed as bad, even sinful. When I first started struggling with depression in high school, I didn’t even have language for it. I just thought it was normal that everyone thinks about harming themselves and feeling sad more often than not. I thought it was about having greater faith, praying more, and not being sucked into “temptation.”
Fast forward to college when the feelings became more extreme. I started not just thinking about harming myself, but actually acting on it. Because I went to a Christian university, I felt like I couldn’t share my struggle with others. Even though there were great resources available—and most people didn’t believe the lies that depression was “a sin problem” or something you could “have greater faith” to get rid of—I couldn’t get over the fear and shame that was so deeply ingrained in me.
It took the intentionality and patience of one friend who saw my struggle and slowly encouraged me to get help. She deeply loved Jesus, and she was adamant that it was okay to acknowledge my struggles and get help. I started seeing a counselor and eventually was diagnosed with clinical depression. Through the combination of consistent therapy and antidepressant medication, I was able to get to a healthier place. Not a place void of pain or sadness, but a healthy, right-sized experience of all the emotions.
I now know that God created all emotions, the ones we perceive as both positive and negative. All feelings are valid and normal. How we respond, the behavioral result, is where we sometimes go awry. When we try to ignore, stuff or shame ourselves out of feeling sadness or anger or grief, we actually diminish the fullness of how God created us. Look at the life of Jesus; he experienced a wide range of emotions–sadness (Matthew 26:28), anger (Mark 11:15-17), grief (John 11:35-38)–-and He was without sin. I constantly believed that I was a bad daughter, that God was somehow disappointed in me. Through the help of my counselor, I had to reframe that message and learn that I was created in God’s image.
If you suspect that maybe you struggle with your mental health, know this: you aren’t bad. Like my friend once told me, please hear this: you can deeply love Jesus and have a mental illness. Find a Christian counselor. Share your struggle with others who hold your story with care and empathy. It is God’s heart for you to live free from shame and step into the fullness of who He’s created you to be.
Get insight from a pastor on what God believes about mental health: What Does God Think About Mental Health?
Read Sav’s story of living with depression and how she copes with therapy, support, and faith.
Ready to find a counselor? See our guide to finding a counselor and what to expect from your visits.
For more practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.