Dear Church, Let's Talk About Mental Health


“Pastors are not meant to get therapy” vs. “Pastors really need to get therapy.”

I used to live by statement number one... probably why I ended up living statement number two.

Let me start by saying that I am still a pastor, I still believe in the absolute power of Jesus to heal the heart and I’m still a huge supporter of church counseling and ministry. But I feel compelled to raise my voice and say:

Therapy is not demonic.

Taking antidepressants is not a sin.

Seeing a psychiatrist is not anti-christian.

And those who suffer from mental health problems are not a failure.

Lord knows we need more openness in our congregations because (and this is a fact) 50% of adults will develop depression, PTSD, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or some other mental illness in their lifetime.

Half of the people reading this article already have (or currently are). And for the sake of our family, friends and church leaders, we need to break the shame. Jesus is the hope for each and every one of our needs. He’s the miracle worker who, “healed every disease and every sickness.” And when Jesus healed the leper, the demon possessed, the broken-hearted, he never blamed them for their condition. Jesus is not a religious leader who will condemn us if we seek help, Jesus is the high priest who understands our weaknesses.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

Yes, that was Jesus talking about himself in Mark 14:34.

He knows how it feels.

 

To talk of a person’s mental illness like it was a result of a sin, curse, or demon possession is to further stigmatize, shame, and isolate those who are struggling. It is stone throwing people who need understanding and a helping hand. Yes, it is possible that sin and curses and demons are part of the issue, but we need to focus on the person. And admit that we don’t have all the tools or all the answers for the different situations that need attention.

The church is the place many turn while in crisis. We cannot keep turning away the most vulnerable among us. We have to learn how to approach and relate to their specific needs.

As Brandon Peach wrote,

“Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it’s time the Church leads society in helping to do the same."

In the past the Body of Christ has had three dominating approaches when dealing with mental illness:

  • Treat it exclusively as a spiritual issue.

  • Ignore it completely.

  • Treat it exclusively as a medical issue. 

I write this article not as a pastor, or a doctor or a trained counselor... I approach this subject mostly as a past patient.
A few years ago I needed to visit a psychiatrist to talk about my depression. It was

the first time in my life where I actually felt helpless, totally unmotivated and OK with the idea of suicide. Being able to talk to a professional who could specifically diagnose me and recommend treatment was liberating. Actually, in that moment it was the Godliest thing I could do.

However, I also needed friends who listened. I needed my leaders to pray. I needed God’s word and encouragement. And in certain moments, I just needed to ignore it all and focus on the things I love to do.

There are too many families in our congregations who are struggling with addictions and depression and all sorts of abusive behavior. I know that because that was our case. And in the middle of it, prayer was great... but it wasn’t enough. Sounds heretic just writing it. But it’s necessary that we talk about it.

I spent 8 months with a professional counselor who taught me how to manage my anger, improve my moods and take ownership of my situation. He gave me books to read, coached me with technics for relaxation and he saw Catherine and I together for marriage guidance. He used specific evidenced-based treatments to treat my conditions and used cognitive behavioral therapy (stuff I would have never considered before) because after many years in full time ministry and after 10 years of terrible behavior as a husband, I needed professional help.

I used to be so ashamed to share it. Now, I celebrate where God has taken me individually and where God has taken us a couple. And I am so glad I didn’t just go for ministry, or a one-time repentance fix, but actually invested money and time with a health care professional.

It was not perfect. A few times I considered punching my therapist (Hi Dolan! Love you bro). But after months of weekly sessions, I am absolutely convinced that God took me there.

I have heard stories of people getting healed in one moment. It’s happened in my own life in other circumstances; and I pray that for us all. But the reality for most is that the hurts and rejection of the past, combined with actual illness of the mind, require more time, more care and more attention. It starts with us pastors getting help when necessary. It continues with the church as a whole empowering people to do whatever it’s necessary to be made well. It demands open conversations with those who have overcome, and with those who are still struggling.

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.” Thomas Merton

It ends with us caring more about people (and their health) than about our limited opinions and hindering theology. The religious mindset wants to control how people heal. It wants to determine the rules of engagement for all scenarios and situations. But spiritual maturity is demonstrated by the increase in realization of the help and grace you need. And the heart of Christ is to heal the brokenhearted.

Maybe you’re the broken-hearted in this scenario, can I encourage to ask for help?

And if it takes visiting an actual doctor to help you with your situation, then I know for a fact that Jesus will be holding your hand the whole way through. He did it for me.

Because Jesus is the hope for everyone struggling with mental illness. And the hope for the church that’s ignoring it.

Might be a good time to stop pretending and start attending to this real need. For my sake.

And yours.

* We can all help prevent suicide. This lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

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Carlos A. Rodríguez is a pastor, an activist, and a communicator. He's the CEO of The Happy NPO and the author of Simply Sonship, Drop The Stones and the upcoming Proximity. Together with his wife Catherine, they have three gorgeous children and have moved to Puerto Rico to continue relief efforts all over the Caribbean (post hurricane Irma and Maria).
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93 comments


  • Sandy Valette

    With my own struggle with mental illness and working with those that find themselves on the same journey, God revealed a truth to me.

    God created the brain to handle trauma before trauma even entered the world! He knew what sin would do to the human psyche.

    I stand in awe of that revealed statement!

    So yes, I have had therapists. Many to be exact! Yes I take medications. Many in that area as well. They keep me alive. With Suicide being on both sides of my family (multiple members) if I do not take them, I find myself slipping into a deep dark hole that I have worked hard and had to fight hard to get out of.

    With that said, this is how I address these issues with fellow believers who challenge me on therapists and medication. Which thank goodness isn’t too often. But for others I know, they have not been so lucky.

    First, I know my journey and my body and no one can take that away from me.

    Second, getting well from mental illness is not based on my faith. I refer back to my reveal statement.

    Third, if you have a disease like diabetes or cancer who do your go to? A doctor. What else do you do? Take medication. Mental illness is no different.

    Fourth and final, I know that there are many who have had an amazing healing experience from God on their mental health. I rejoice with them! I don’t doubt them or tear them down for not being on the same healing experience journey as me. I certainly do not call their level of faith into question!

    Can we not Rejoice for both? For the soul who has had the miraculous event and for the soul who goes to therapy and takes meds. Both are experiencing healing! Can we not rejoice with each other?

    Second, getting well has nothing to do with my amount of faith!


  • Martha

    My husband is a Christian counselor. How do I get the t-shirt “It’s okay to have Jesus and a therapist” ? I would love to get it for him for Christmas. 😊


  • William Robert Haacke

    Hey church let’s talk about mental health


  • Seraphim

    The problem is….the mental health and psychological communities operate from a foundational worldview about suffering, illness, and religion that is diametrically opposed to a Christian understanding of the world.

    I would be interested to see if this Pastor supports the use of psychedelics and Cannabis for treatment of mental health issues, like he does the dangerous pharma.

    The other issue is, Western Christianity has lost the PRACTICE of Christianity. They have a lot of belief and information but do not know how to apply that to their own lives. Hence…based on this mans own admission he was unfit for the Pastorate based on his home life…but it always becomes about the importance of the ministry rather than the fitness of the minister.

    There is nothing new under the sun and I would caution people that if they are going to see a mental health expert they make sure the Therapist clearly understand and integrate Christian realities into any treatment or therapy.


  • Ruth

    I am so blessed to counsel at our church People helper Counseling Center where clients come at no charge. We are not licensed and are lay-trained with professional oversight. I’ve been there 13 years and just love volunteering there!


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