“I trust church leaders who have been to therapy, who are vulnerable and open to themselves.” – Giona Melo

Overview of Mental Health and the Christian Faith

Mental health and the Christian faith are not mutually exclusive. The two are integrative. God cares about every aspect of who we are. As Christians, we ought to break the chokehold of shame around the necks of those who are wrestling with mental health.

As we see in the Psalms, David walked through the deep trenches of sorrow and cried out to God with great honesty, rawness, and authenticity. It is through the acknowledgement and expression of his feelings that David was then able to express how God remains near to us amongst strong emotions.

Before Jesus was taken to be crucified, he felt deep sorrow and was under so much anxiety that he sweat blood. Some scholars have argued that what Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane was a medical term called hematidrosis. This occurs when someone is under great stress – capillaries rupture causing sweat glands to exude blood.

If Jesus became fully man and experienced such a strong physiological response to an emotion, he can surely relate and empathize with everyone in their suffering.

Can we stomach a Savior, fully man and fully God, who sat with his own emotions and acknowledged them? We are often taught a toxic message not to express anger, fear, sadness, or any emotions declared as negative. Yet, Jesus did the opposite. Jesus wept. Jesus had justified anger with the religious rituals that took precedence over human needs.

As we learn how to validate and guide ourselves and others through the ebb and flow of emotions, we mirror the humanity of God.

What we believe may be helpful can be hurtful.

Too often, whether with good intentions or not, we use scripture or phrases such as “cast all of your anxieties on him” or “just be grateful” as a bandaid in response to someone’s distress or difficult situation. These phrases may not only feel invalidating for someone, but it is also like handing someone a petri dish for shame and putting it in an incubator. Cultures of shame thrive under conditions where the honesty of every emotion isn’t held as sacred.

We need to use discernment around when it is appropriate to quote scripture to someone and ensure that we know and respect the context around the verse.

Let us not be quick to assume that mental health struggles solely stem from a lack of faith. We send mixed messages when we proudly have catchy church slogans about belonging and experiencing loving, Jesus-driven community, and then disregard how someone is feeling.

Validation allows people to feel seen, loved, understood and creates an overall sense of safety.

Try viewing emotions as helpful pieces of information. It does not mean we equate feelings with Gospel truth, but I think it’s worth asking: would there be a Gospel message if Jesus suppressed what He was feeling? When he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Or “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus expressed deep despair and, through this expression, He showed undeniable trust in the Father.

Ways the Church Can Help

Normalize to eliminate the stigma

Mental health sits on a broad spectrum. For example, we all experience anxiety to some degree. No one is exempt from it. Mental health is a universal human experience. This helps level the playing field and allows us to connect with others who may be experiencing mental illness.

Consider how you communicate

Engage with empathy and sensitivity. Listen to understand, not to react. People have different communication styles, so being blunt and direct with one person may not be effective with another person who is more sensitive. Engage in humility to recognize that your way of communicating may not be for everyone.

  • This is also reflected in different psychotherapy theoretical orientations. During a therapy session, the therapist will likely have a theoretical framework that they counsel their clients through. Some theories developed for therapy are more directive and behavior-oriented, while others are client-driven and relationship-based.
  • Additionally, consider how you use words such as PTSD, OCD, anxiety, and depression in your everyday conversation. For those living with a mental health disorder, brandishing those terms minimizes their experience and cheapens the word’s meaning. Check out the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) as this shows what a clinical definition of anxiety or depression is.
Educate yourself

Mental health is complicated and is not simply due to one factor like spirituality. Consider a more holistic approach and think about if someone has a family history of mental health concerns, biological factors, environmental factors, and psychological factors that may contribute to someone’s well being – not just spiritual factors. Faith and science can complement each other.

Do your own work

When we work with people, we have the potential to do harm to others particularly when we haven’t processed our own experiences and emotions. Approach your reactions and emotions with curiosity instead of judgment. Consider going to therapy. If we want to show up for others in a non-judgmental way, practice showing yourself that same compassion.

Raise awareness

This can look like encouraging church leaders to give sermons and host bible studies on various mental health topics. Be curious of how you and others view emotions. Require training sessions for staff and offer them to congregants.

Recognize that the Bible is not a quick fix for depression. God’s Word can certainly offer hope and healing to those who are hurting, but mental health is complicated. We don’t hand a teenager a Bible when they are learning how to drive. They go to a driver’s education class to get their permit, they practice, and the parents reluctantly sit in the passenger’s seat. There needs to be more than one tool in the toolbox.

be in relationship

Research shows that relationships with others are an innate human need, and they are the foundation of our mental health. We are biologically wired for meaningful connection.

As we grew up, descending fibers from the prefrontal cortex were formed down to the amygdala. How well-attuned our primary caregivers were to our needs and emotional responses impacts the strength of those neural networks and fibers. This determines how we handle or how we regulate our emotions as adults.

We are regulated by one another. We need relationships with others. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs tells us that humans need these 5 categories starting from physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. If our need for love and belonging is not met, esteem and self-actualization cannot not be met. The church needs to be a safe place where people can have that need met.

Offer Christ-centered mental health resources

Consider whether your church should offer biblical counseling or counseling from a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who is a devoted Christian. Start support groups and generating a list of referrals and emergency phone numbers. Create a list of easily-accessible, free resources to share with others in the church.


Like Jesus, we can’t shy away from our emotions. Instead, we need to normalize, educate, and empathize. By offering Christ-centered resources and support, we’re able to better walk alongside each other, embodying the love and understanding of Christ.