Written by Elena Fenner
Since I was young, I have been a part of the Church of Christ. For the most part, I would say that this has been a force for good in my life. That being said, there have been some challenges. When I was in middle school and high school, I began to struggle with my mental health. I missed a lot of school, so I started getting help. In conversations I had with members and people of the faith, I noticed that everyone had something to say. I remember one person telling me that I needed to “just be happy” or “pray about it.” I chalk most of these conversations up to ignorance; however, at the time, these words did more damage than good.
Some people would suggest verses to me or Bible studies I could listen to online that would help me get through these struggles I was having inside my head. I knew in my heart that this all came from a good place — a God place — but the more these comments were fed to me and the more I asked for help from Christians around me, the more discouraged I got.
It wasn’t until I had an appointment with a Harding counselor that I realized something. I was discussing some struggles I was having in the session, and the counselor suggested I read some verses and pray. I left this session devastated. You see, my entire life I have been given this message that if my mental health was suffering then I was not a good or faithful Christian — that I didn’t love God enough. I learned to blame myself for my anxiety, for my depression, and I stopped looking to the church for help or for guidance. Instead, I started looking to God. And God didn’t work in the way that I wanted. I asked him to take away my anxiety; I asked him for an escape. And here’s what I learned:
I learned that God answers prayers with people. God doesn’t take away our problems just because we ask. He gives us people, he gives us perspective, he gives us resources, therapists, medications and more. I had a conversation with someone from my church congregation back home who told me the most reassuring and helpful statement I have ever heard since my struggle with mental health began. She said to me, “Your mental health is not a reflection of your faith.” She assured me that God does not work that way. God doesn’t punish our faithlessness by giving us anxiety or panic attacks or any other mental hurdles. God gives us comfort, and he gives us people. There is enough shame and stigma surrounding mental health as it is. My hope is that by sharing these thoughts and my experience that we can all become more aware and sensitive to those who have mental health challenges so that the church can be a safe space to share and to listen to those in crisis.