Christian Silence and Hypocrisy on Mental Illness
Statistics on Christians and Mental Illness
Let’s get this out of the way: we, as Christians, must stop the rampant hypocrisy and stigma over mental illness. We act as if diseases of reasoning (mental illness) are somehow worse than physical illness (cancer, flu, etc.). Later, I provide a well-known biblical figure who God used mightily, yet He suffered mental distress on an un-imaginable scale. Before arriving there, let’s review research data with respect to how rampant mental illness is among the church.
Let’s not forget the below statistics are just those who were truthful, unashamed, and willing to share. Many more of claiming to be: “blessed and highly favored”, are struggling even when telling this obvious lie.
Here is some church mental health survey results:
1. Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2017. It found that among identified Christian, 24% say they have received treatment or counseling from a mental health professional. This is compared with 30% of adults who are religiously unaffiliated. Wow - we suffer only 6% less than those who do not know Jesus? That number must be lower than is true because we are great at hiding struggles.
2. A 2019 survey by LifeWay Research conducted a survey about mental health conversations within the church body. It found that 49% of Church leaders rarely (or never) speak to their congregation(s) about mental health issues. Another 27% say they speak about mental health once a year or less.
3. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conducted a survey in 2019. This survey discovered among religiously active individuals with mental health struggles, 64% say faith is important in recovery. However, 29% say their faith community did not provide adequate support during their recovery.
4. A study published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity in 2017 was surprising. It found that Christians who hold stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness are less likely to seek help or encourage others to.
5. The Journal of Religion and Health (2021) found that among Christian college students, those who reported higher levels of “spirituality”, also reported higher anxiety and depression. The study suggests that the stigma surrounding mental illness in Christian communities contributes to underreporting.
6. A survey conducted by the Barna Group in 2015 found that among Christian Pastors, 23% say they have personally struggled with mental illness, and 12% say they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The survey also found that 59% of pastors say they feel the expectations placed on them by their congregation are unrealistic, which may contribute to their mental health struggles.
7. The American Bible Society (2020) discovered that 29% of U.S. adults who identify as Christian, say their mental health was impacted negatively by COVID 19 and its fallout. The survey also found that among Christians who attend church regularly, 36% say they have felt disconnected from their church community during the pandemic. This contributed to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
In summary, we Christians suffer mental illness and stressors just like everyone else. The difference is WE have someone to take our cares to. Doesn’t scripture teach: “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you”?
Should I Disclose Mental Illness to My Pastor
The answer to whether you should disclose your mental illness to your Pastor is no. As a Pastor for some years now, and knowing hundreds more, there are three (3) things I know for sure about 80% of us. First, eight (8) in ten (10) of those claiming to be sent by God simply had a personal desire to be used by God. This is far from being personally “called” by the Lord. Ever wonder why there are often multiple churches within a few blocks of one (1) another?
The Lord told multiple people, to plow the same fields over and over? That isn’t what Paul said: “it has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known, so that I would not be building on someone’s else’s foundation”. I do concede, however, that the Lord is faithful to provide for those who would otherwise not attend church because of leadership personality issues!
Second, a large percentage of us have not learned to accept we can follow the Lord yet suffer mental health issues simultaneously. More on that in a future article. Finally, we believe prayer, exclusively, is the solution! Yes prayer is crucial and should be our priority. However, what did the Lord reveal during that prayer time? What if He, at the time, refused to heal?
7 Reasons to Withhold Your Mental Illness from Pastors
Here are seven (7) reasons why I would not confess this to a Pastor immediately:
1. 95% of us can’t biblically address the subject: Pastors always want to “pray it away” prior to considering what they are dealing with. The reality is, nowhere in scripture does God promise to “heal every malady Christians suffer”. Quite the opposite is true! Paul was dealing with some form of illness and when he prayed for healing, the Lord said: “my grace has been enough for you”. Put more plainly – “I will not so deal with it”.
2. Pastors believe there is a difference in “sickness types”: all sickness comes from sin and all sin results in sickness. This is not to suggest everyone who is sick did something to deserve it. Jesus’ disciples believed someone sinned (his parents) and thus the man was blind. Jesus rebuked that suggestion. The stigma surrounding mental illness, and the church, comes from leaders teaching the false doctrine that “mental illness” is “spiritually” based and physical ailments are not. That is wrong and false doctrine. A bad premise produces bad logic and never leads to biblical truth, ever.
3. Pastors Visit Physically Sick in Hospitals but not mentally ill: in fairness, some mentally ill people are much more physically dangerous to both themselves, and others, than are those physically sick. Point taken. However, we should make the effort to visit both, in their confinement. The stigma is we should stay away from these people until they are well. Why not stay away from any sick person? I am GUILTY of neglect in this area as well! May the Lord forgive me. While I will courageously point fingers at others, in this case, I point it at myself as well.
4. Church leaders refuse to be honest about themselves: Pastors can never be honest with the Lord, or you, until they are first truthful about where their mental health is. Let me be the first: around eight (8) years old (in 1981), I was diagnosed with A.D.D. and as a “chronic disruptive” by the elementary school I attended. I still struggle through it today as do many. One (1) cannot guide you if they cannot first be truthful themselves. The Bible teaches: "no lie is of the truth". If this be true, how can someone lying and obfuscating their struggles assist another suffering the same? There is much truth in: "physician heal thyself".
5. We do not confront the “whisperers” in the body: your mental illness struggles are noticed by others. The congregation I lead sees me pace around the pulpit (refusing to sit down) each Sunday. Churches much less healthy see these behaviors and “whisper” in condemnation. If your church is a proven “non-safe space”, it may be unwise to disclose your struggles.
6. Pastors most often believe “faith level” is a casual factor: this is the “pray everything away” doctrine. Yes, the Bible says: “pray and pray without ceasing” but when did it guarantee all prayers would be answered in a personally beneficial way? Some push back with: “Jesus said ask anything in My Name and it will be given”. Yes, but that cannot be separated from God’s Will and as Paul's thorn taught: the answer can be NO!
7. Not all church leaders should be trusted: I pointed out that most leading God’s people were not called to do so. The Bible says: “try those spirits whether they be of God or not because many false prophets (preachers) are in the world”. There are those who God did not call whom you can trust, and others He did whom you should never trust. I know, this is confusing and it should be. There are those who will “feed you” and others (as Jeremiah warned) who “feed on you”. Out of the twenty (20) or so Pastors this city, I trust none beyond our “transactional” relationship. More plainly – I have never met a more selfish and untrustworthy group of people. I hate that I have come to this conclusion (through personal experience), but I can no longer act as if "everything is OK".
In summary, there are numerous reasons you should not disclose your mental illness to a church leader before they prove worthy of trust. This is not an issue of any Christian being judgmental either. However, neither should you suffer in silence. There are non-spiritual based, more trustworthy people in the private sector to speak with.
I know, as a Pastor, how awful that truth is to accept. Yet, if your Pastor is trust-worthy, as proven over several years, take the chance because he (or she) may surprise with their love and understanding.
Does Jesus Care About Mental Illness
Although it may surprise many, Jesus had a “mental health struggle” of His own! Let me be clear – this is not to say Jesus either sinned or was mentally unstable. God forbid! If there was any sin in Him, at all, He was not worthy to be the “Lamb of God”. Scriptures explains much better than I: “for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness. But we have One (1) who was tempted in every way as are we yet remained without sin.”
There is a scene in the Gospel, according to Luke (22:44), which says: “and being in anguish, Jesus prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground”. This occurred the night Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was deeply distressed at this moment. However, and having prayed "according to God's Will", He was not relieved of His assignment (John 3:1-7).
I am not suggesting, as some, Jesus was actually “sweating blood” (although He might have) because we do not know. However, what is apparent is He was overwhelmed (in the flesh anyway) with what He knew would shortly occur (His murder). If this is not the classic diagnoses of at least “mental stress”, none exists in the entire Bible.
Please understand, and as I close – the Lord loves you. Do not avoid transparency, in prayer, based on the ignorant and hypocritical behavior of church leaders. Jesus knows about your past spiritual abuse and hurt at the hands of "fake followers" of His. If the writers of the gospels showed even our Lord struggling with some things (yet without sin), how can we claim to not suffer. Or worse, identify this as somehow “un-Christian”?
Header Image Courtesy of Hasty Words @ Pixabay