Every day this month, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve posted a simple string of words onto my Facebook page with the hashtag Mental Health, “People with ____ are loved by God #MentalHealth.” The response has been overwhelming, with people loving, liking, caring, and sharing with friends. It turns out that many of us need reassurance that God loves people with mental health challenges.
I’m challenging myself to make one post like this each day of May to reassure us that God loves people with mental illness. For example, I’ve highlighted everything from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar, schizophrenia, addiction, insomnia, to posttraumatic stress disorder. With over 300 different medical mental health diagnoses, I have no doubt I’ll be able to find something for each day of May.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one out of four people live with a mental health challenge. Now, in our second year of the global pandemic, it is likely that one in three of us have some kind of mental health condition. Depression and the anxiety have become the most common. So many of us are worried, sad, tired, weary, stressed, anxious, and have a hard time sleeping through the night.
As people of faith, we look to God for comfort to help get us through what I call the “valley of the shadow of mental illness.” God offers us unconditional love, comfort, and hope to get us through the valley. Even though we know God loves all of us, sometimes people with mental illness feel unlovable and wonder if God truly loves them. Some people claim that mental illness results from being cursed by God. I want to reassure you that God loves you! You are not cursed!
The thing is, I wish I lived in a world where we didn’t have to reassure ourselves that God loves people with mental health challenges and illness. I wish we lived in a world that saw the beauty, the power, the brilliance, and the blessing of people living with mental health conditions. I wish we lived in a world that didn’t see us as cursed.
I wrote the books Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church (Chalice Press, 2014) and Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage (Chalice, 2021) because too often we view mental illness in the church as a curse. In these books I share my personal stories and testimonies about my own experiences with mental health challenges as a Christian, minister, daughter, sister, cousin, and wife. Growing up in a family with serious mental illness taught me that many of us carry untold stories of pain and suffering. We feel too ashamed to break the silence because we are afraid of being rejected.
I am still shaken to my core by the recent words of a respected colleague in ministry. After sharing my prayer request for loved ones experiencing serious mental health challenges, my colleague replied with deep sympathy, “your family must be cursed.”
What kind of God would curse me and my loved ones with mental illness? What does the belief that mental illness is a curse from God say about the character of God? If mental illness is a curse, then what hope do I have?
The good news is that mental illness is not a curse from God. People who say so need firm and loving correction because that toxic and harmful belief must go. If the Christian faith is to be part of what offers us hope and healing, then our faith needs to be liberated from shame and stigma.
Blessed are the crazy. Blessed are people with mental illness. Blessed are unions with mental health challenges. Blessed are all the people of God.
People with mental health challenges are loved by God.