When God Doesn’t Heal Mental Illness

When I had my first panic attack, I hadn’t yet experienced puberty, let alone serious mental distress. Sunday School taught me enough about God that I knew how things would play out: I’d pray, get healed, and never deal with it again.

Oh, if only it were that simple.

Fifteen years later, I’ve fasted, I’ve prayed, I’ve had preachers rebuke demons and I’ve stayed up all night begging heaven for relief. I’ve had many prayer chains started on my behalf. Need a Scripture about healing? I’ve memorized most of them.

Still, the anxiety hasn’t left.

What gives?  

I don’t have all of the answers by any stretch. I’m not a theologian––my husband is the doctrinal nerd in this relationship.

After dealing with panic attacks and suicidal ideation for a good portion of my life, this is where I’m at: God could wave a magic wand and make this all go away instantly. He hasn’t. I’ll still proclaim His goodness.

I’ve seen healing, but it’s never looked like I expected. It’s been messier and much more of a process. It’s come through changing the way my brain processes things.

Every morning, I wash down two Effexor capsules with coffee. Before bed, I whisper a quick prayer and pop a Klonopin pill. Twice a month, I visit a nondescript office in Boca for cognitive behavioral therapy. Treatment hasn’t cured me, but it has made life bearable.

It took me years to seek medical help because well-meaning Christians told me anxiety and depression were spiritual giants to conquer. Can you imagine if we treated physical disease the same way we treat mental illness? Imagine if someone came to church with a broken arm and we told them they needed more faith to feel better.

Now think about all the people in our congregations with broken brains earnestly praying and not seeing any improvement because we often discourage utilizing God-given resources.

I spoke with a psychiatrist for the first time on Dec. 13, 2013 –– the day I was admitted to the hospital after a mental breakdown. I’d dealt with clinical anxiety for 11 years, and I did not talk to a doctor until I was forced to stay in a psychiatric ward.

I know the Lord. I also know good prescription medication. I long for the day the two aren’t seen as mutually exclusive by some.

What would happen if the Church said to those with mental illness: you are different, but not less? What if the Church could break down walls of shame and begin a healthy dialogue? Isn’t that what every person wants – to be heard and respected? To feel as though we belong?

— Steve Austin


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