Is seeking professional help for mental health issues compatible with my faith?

Is seeking professional help for mental health issues compatible with my faith?

Is seeking professional help for mental health issues compatible with my faith?

Many Christians wonder if seeking professional help, such as counselling, therapy, or medication, is consistent with their religious beliefs.

Life is full of ups and downs. We have times when everything is going well, times when we worry about everything, times when it all feels too much, and times when everything seems to go wrong all at once (Ecclesiastes chapter 3). Just because we are struggling today doesn’t necessarily mean we need professional help, most things pass. However, if you have been having symptoms of depression, anxiety, or anything else which is different from how you normally feel, and it has gone on for more than a couple of weeks, or it’s starting to interfere with your everyday life then it may be time to get help.

If you had a pain in your knee that had meant you couldn’t walk as far as normal, most Christians would feel OK about getting professional help for it. They would have no issues about going to their GP and taking any medication prescribed or having to go to a physiotherapist. So why do the same people sometimes have hang-ups about getting help for mental health issues?

Various reasons come to mind. Firstly, we can feel that mental health issues and spiritual issues are the same thing and therefore require the same solutions.

What is the difference between mental and spiritual health?

Mental health is defined this way by the World Health Organisation…

Mental health is not just the absence of a mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. WHO 2014

It is how we feel about ourselves and how we cope with the stresses of life.

Spiritual health is harder to define, but usually includes having a sense of awe and wonder, having faith in God, communicating with Him through prayer, and knowing that God is in control no matter what life throws at us. Looking through the Psalms you can frequently see mental health issues in the form of symptoms of depression or anxiety, but those same psalms are prayers to a God who is seen as caring and is trusted despite the hardships the authors are enduring. It is plain to see that you can experience poor mental health at the same time as having positive spiritual health.

“We can feel that mental health issues and spiritual issues are the same thing and therefore require the same solutions”

If we think mental health and spiritual health are the same things, then when we are struggling with our mental health, we will think the answer is to pray, read our Bibles more and trust God to help us through it. I’m not saying that these are bad things to do but if we think about how we would get help for knee pain we would know that these aren’t always the only things we need. Yes, God can heal us and prayer works, but sometimes the way that God chooses to heal us is through the work of doctors and other professionals. So it’s OK to talk to medical professionals about your mental health and follow their advice.

Is it OK for Christians to take antidepressants?

Many people worry that antidepressants are addictive or will make them feel falsely happy or high and that this wouldn’t be compatible with their faith.

The most commonly used antidepressants (fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram) work by preventing the breakdown of a neurotransmitter (chemical made by the brain) called serotonin. This causes an increase in serotonin in the brain which helps to improve mood over time. It is not currently understood exactly how this works. It takes two to four weeks for antidepressants to start to have an effect on your mood, and then what most people notice is just that they start to have more days when they feel back to normal rather than excessively happy. Some people need larger doses than others or may have to try a couple of different types of medication before they find one that works for them. 

Once you are no longer depressed it is recommended that you continue to take them for six months before cutting them down and eventually coming off them. Some people do experience some unpleasant sensations when they stop taking antidepressants, such as dizziness or pins and needles, but this is not the same as withdrawing from something you are addicted to. In addiction you need increasing amounts of the substance to get the same effect and often get a craving for it that can’t be satisfied any other way. This is not true of antidepressants, once you find the right dose then that dose will continue to be effective.

There are medications called Benzodiazepines (Diazepam, Lorazepam, Temazepam) which are sometimes used in small doses for anxiety. These can have a powerful effect on calming feelings of anxiety and can become addictive if taken regularly.

There are multiple warnings about being drunk throughout the Bible, for example the qualifications for leaders in 1 Timothy 3. We can therefore conclude that a Christian should not be addicted or inebriated by any substances that we take. However, when we look at the way alcohol is used in the Bible, with even Jesus converting water to wine for a wedding party we can reason that it is OK to drink alcohol, just not to the point where you are drunk. Self-control is a virtue, being drunk and out of control can lead you to dishonour God so should not be part of a Christian’s life. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul advises Timothy to

"Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses."

In the same letter where Paul has said leaders shouldn’t be drunk he is telling Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes. We can use these principles when thinking about medication that may be addictive. A little may be helpful, but do not use it to the point it makes you lose control.

There are other medications people may take to help with their mental health but the same principles apply. Overall Going to the GP, or other health professionals for mental health issues should not be seen as a negative thing or something Christians shouldn't do. There should be no stigma surrounding reaching out to get the input we need or medication to support our mental health. So if you have been struggling with your mental health don't be afraid to get help. Have a look at our other blog posts here to give you ideas about how you can look after yourself or others when you are experiencing mental health challenges. 

I have not talked about talking therapies in this blog but I will be writing about it soon so continue to look out for my next blog – sign up here to have it delivered to you by email.