Christians are half as likely to seek mental health counseling as non-believers. Just let that sink in for a moment.
The K-LOVE radio station shared that statistic on Facebook and they asked their followers to ponder why that may be. As I read some of the comments, I wanted to vomit.
“Because they don’t have the Great Counselor.” “Because they are searching for something more.” “Because they have money to waste?” I was filled with rage and got into some pointless arguments with strangers. When I stopped my futile efforts and calmed down, I was still left sad and concerned by that statistic. Why aren’t Christians seeking counseling? I can’t scientifically say, but I have a feeling it is a lot to do with most church culture.
As a long time anxiety and depression sufferer, I cannot tell you the number of times part of Matthew Chapter 6:26 has been quoted to me:
. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
. . . you of little faith?”
So I would pray and pray and pray and nothing would change. I would get an aching feeling I should get more help, but the response was always “Stop worrying. You’re fine. Everything always turns out fine.”
It wasn’t until I was in college that I could seek mental health counseling on my own. It was a lot of work and nothing changed overnight. However, after my first session, when I said my nightly prayers, I received an overwhelming feeling of calm. Almost a sense of “You finally did what I was telling you to, dummy.”
When I hear and read people telling others to pray their mental illness away I get so angry. It makes me think of the old story: A man was at sea and his boat was sinking. Another boat came by and asked if he needed help. “No,” said the man, “God will save me.” Then a much larger boat came by and shouted asking if he needed help. “No!,” said the man, “God will save me!” The water was now at the man’s shoulders as he began to tread. Finally a helicopter came by and asked if he needed help. “No,” said the man, “God will save me.” Then the man could tread no longer and drowned. When he got to heaven he asked God “Why didn’t you save me, Lord.” God sighed and said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What else did you want?!”
As Christians, we talk about how God likes to use people to help his people, and that we are to be messengers and servants. When someone has cancer, we pray that the doctors and nurses can provide adequate treatment. We pray that answers and healing may be found. Then we hold their hand through chemo, send them meals after surgery, and offer to mow their lawn. Why do we treat mental illness so differently?
In the new testament, Jesus provides examples and healing over and over again to dispel the myth at the time that illness was a punishment from God for not having enough faith. Yet two thousand years later, Christians are acting like mental illness is a result of not having enough faith!
When anyone dares to suggest that someone might need additional help, often counseling with a pastor is suggested. While pastors mean well and can certainly offer support, they are not trained in mental illness. They simply do not have the skill set to treat mental illness. And if medication is required, then their efforts are likely futile.
Christians need to do a better job of supporting other Christians. Just like we don’t expect you to be able to pray away strep throat, diabetes, or cancer, we need to stop suggesting that mental illness can be prayed away. Next time a fellow Christian is struggling mentally, offer to help them find a counselor or psychiatrist. Pray that they seek and obtain the health they need.