By Christine Suhan
As a mental health advocate and writer who is extremely transparent with my own mental illness battles, I have received a lot of personal messages containing very strong opinions about mental health. I am usually quick to dismiss the feedback, as I realize some people just aren’t educated in mental health and I understand that closed-minded, judgmental opinions typically come from a place of ignorance. But there are some comments from Christian readers that get my blood boiling.
The most offensive and hurtful one to date read as follows:
“Can we all stop talking about depression and start praying instead? I wish people would realize that we are all made in the image of God and that God doesn’t make mistakes. Continuing to talk about depression and anxiety is just perpetuating the problem. If people could just remember that they are made in the image of God, depression would be a thing of the past.”
I never responded to this person; when I started writing I told myself I wouldn’t respond to any kind of negativity. But here’s what I would have said in response:
My dear sister (brother) in Christ,
It pains me to have to tell you this; I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but sweet sister, you have it all wrong. I’m sure your intentions were pure and your heart is in the right place. You just haven’t learned this yet, and that’s okay. Let me help educate you.
The Bible first tells us that we were created in the image and likeness of God in Genesis 1 during the creation story. This is BEFORE the fall happens. Before man, in and of his own will, sinned and turned away from God. God created the first two humans and gave them the ability to pro-create but Adam and Eve were the only two humans created in the perfect image of God. The rest of us are created, by man, in the likeness of God, meaning we all have the ability to strive toward accessing God’s perfect love which lives inside of us, but none of us were created to be perfect human beings.
There is no such thing as a perfect human because human nature, in and of itself, is sinful. The moment Adam and Eve sinned, our humanness was born. We, as a species, were set apart from God and won’t return to His perfect, ideal image of us until we reunite with Him in the afterlife. Therefore, our will power cannot rid us of our humanness. We can’t think our way into a perfect life, free from human ailments, such as feelings (sadness, fear, anger, etc.), physical limitations or mental illnesses. If healing ourselves was as simple as “remembering that we were made in the image of God,” there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come.
Another important piece of information that you seem to be lacking is the fact that depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are legitimate illnesses that result from chemical deficiencies in the brain. Mental illnesses are not made up and cannot be removed by prayer alone. Prayer can help relieve some of the symptoms of the mental illnesses, but prayer alone cannot alter brain chemistry. Positive thinking and prayer can help when someone is sad, but someone who is clinically depressed will not get the same results from prayer and thought stopping/changing exercises as someone who is just sad.
Depression is not the same as sadness.
Anxiety is not the same as fear.
Sadness and fear are emotions that everyone experiences while depression and anxiety are inherent chemical imbalances in the brain.
I hope this information helps you to understand how a statement like the one you made can be very hurtful to someone who suffers from mental illness. My faith is not lacking because I have clinical depression. I did not do anything wrong to cause my mental illnesses. My brain was created in the likeness of God because my brain has an immense capacity to love and serve others, but my brain is not perfect. I have to take medicine to help the chemicals in my brain fire correctly so I can function in my daily life. And that’s OK; my reliance upon an anti-depressant does not weaken my reliance upon God. In fact, it has only strengthened it.
Most of all, my dear sister in Christ, I hope someday you learn what being a Christian means. It took me a while to figure it out myself, but the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout life is that the most Christ-like thing I can do is to stop judging others and instead show them love and compassion. Meet people where they’re at. If someone is different from you, seek to understand them, rather than turning a cold shoulder. Let Christ’s love show through you. That, my friend, is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.
About the Author: Christine Suhan is a wife, stay at home mother to three wild toddler boys and writer/creator at www.feelingsandfaith.net. She has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and enjoys helping people through openly and honestly sharing her journey of life, recovery, mental illness, marriage, parenting and more. You can also find her on her Facebook page.