The mental health conversation has come a long way, even in the 10 years or so since I was diagnosed. There’s now a strong community of voices speaking out about their experiences who refuse to be silenced by stigma. Yet the stigma persists, especially, unfortunately, within the church. There’s a unique set of questions and advice, through usually well-meaning, thrown at Christians who dare to open up. Here are 7 things that we as a group are tired of hearing (and that, if you’re on the other side of the struggle, I deeply hope you’ll stop saying).
“The bible says be anxious for nothing”
Yes it does. But it also says that Jesus stressed so much over the crucifixion that He sweat drops of blood. I could address the incomplete picture the church has of the peace of God, but I would rather address the urge to relentlessly quote scripture to the hurting.
Yes, the authoritative Word of God is full of healing truth. It’s also a mirror to show us our sin. But hearing this while anxious feels a lot like going to the doctor with a broken arm only to be told, “you really shouldn’t have fallen down.” Instead, ask me what I need right now. Remind me that God is with me in these fraught moments, and that you’re not going anywhere either.
“Have you prayed for healing?”
Well, not me personally. For most of my adult life, I’ve considered my depression and anxiety to be more of a Pauline “thorn in the flesh.” Before that, I thought it was somehow my own fault. But many Christians who have suffered from anxiety and depression have, in fact, prayed for healing. And they didn’t get it. So now what?
This question, intentionally or not, lends itself to the idea that a favored few can bend the will of God with our constant pleas. So what about those of us who have prayed and still suffer? Are we unworthy of the healing that God is apparently giving away like Oprah’s sweepstakes?
Scripture is full of tragedies that God in His wisdom and omnipotence allowed to happen. This question is, at best, informed by an incomplete theology of suffering. At worst, it’s downright condescending.
“Have you tried…?”
This sentence has many endings. “Have you tried running?” “Have you tried taking vitamins?” “Have you tried getting out more?”
Here’s the thing: yes, all of these things have proven physical and mental health benefits. But, depending on the depths of someone’s struggle, they may be unattainable practices. How am I supposed to go for a run or out with friends when just getting out of bed takes Herculean effort?
But the heart of the issue is this: we don’t need you to fix it. Chances are, you can’t. I know, we hate problems that don’t have quick fixes. Offering solutions makes us feel more in control. But it can also come across as dismissive. Instead of offering solutions, try instead saying “is there anything I can do to help you in this moment?”
*Comments about medication*
Just don’t. Antidepressants, while not a quick-fix cure, are a godsend for many people. Unless you are a doctor or have taken these medications yourself, realize that you may be speaking from a very uninformed place.
“What do you have to be anxious/depressed about?”
This one is just presumptuous. You can’t know what another person’s life is like. What looks ideal on the outside might be more fraught than you think.
But I hear this most often about teenagers. “They don’t have to pay bills, work, or deal with “adult” stressors. Even so, the question is presumptuous and effectively crosses you off the list of people with whom a kid will share their problems. Today’s teens deal with pressures unimaginable 20, or even 10 years ago. They just lived through an unprecedented pandemic in their formative years for goodness sake. Instead of making assumptions based on your own experiences, take time to listen to theirs.
“Aren’t you over it yet?”
Obviously not. Why does there need to be an expiration date on my depressive episode?
There is no linear timeline for healing, so expecting us to stick to one is unhelpful. As Christians, we’re commanded to weep with those who weep and to be patient, as the God we serve is endlessly patient. Sometimes that means walking with our brothers and sisters through their pain, no matter how long it lasts.
“But you seem(ed) so happy”
That was the idea. See, in our culture, ESPECIALLY our church culture, we don’t just walk around with our real feelings on our sleeves. That’s dangerous; people might see them, and then what would they think?
We get so good at wearing a mask. If we’ve lowered it for you, believe what we’re telling you rather than the fake smile.
If you’re a Christian living without depression or anxiety, or if you’ve ever said any of these things, your toes may feel a bit stepped on. Know that my objective is not to break them, but to challenge you. If you’ve read this far, my guess is that you have a heart to constantly love people better. Thank you for taking time to hear from those with struggles different from yours will help you grow in empathy, and ultimately, make you more like Jesus.
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