Mental illness is a tricky subject within Christianity. Some people will say it's fully spiritual, and others will say it has nothing to do with faith or spirituality. I once belonged in the latter category, but now would like to offer another way of looking at it.
I was diagnosed with depression my sophomore year of high school, though I had it since 5th grade. From there I went on to be diagnosed with anxiety, which changed to a panic disorder, and then was diagnosed with ADHD, and eventually, schizophrenia.
I am no stranger to mental illness and the difficulties it causes. I am no stranger to counseling appointments and medication adjustments. It would be silly for me to deny that there is a scientific, physiological reality of mental illness.
But I am also no stranger to spiritual warfare and oppression. I have seen how my mental illnesses "coincidentally" get worse in the same moments I am growing in my faith and recognizing new aspects of the calling on my life. It would be silly for me to deny that there are spiritual realities at play as I battle my mental illness.
My depression got particularly bad during my freshman year of college. I seemed to lose every step of progress I had made throughout high school. I nearly dropped out because of it, but returned my sophomore year, hoping that changing my major would help me. The first day--syllabus day--already proved it was going to be too much for me, and I knew something needed to change.
To make a long story short, God had placed a lot of little stories of people finding spiritual freedom from mental illness in my life over that summer. I decided that it made sense that my mental illness might be used against me in spiritual warfare, because my faith grew exponentially while I was at college, so naturally, the devil wouldn't want me there. If making me depressed got me to drop out, his mission was accomplished.
So that night, I rebuked the Enemy's use of mental illness to keep me from the purpose God had for me. I was a child of God, and only God had authority over my life.
The next day I was free. Multiple symptoms I struggled with were no longer present, and the weight of depression was so much lighter I didn't even notice it for a while. But most importantly, those symptoms stayed gone. Three years later, though I still have depression, I am not overwhelmed by spiritual oppression in conjunction with it. This makes my depression much easier to manage--and when I do face spiritual attack in the form of depression, I'm able to recognize it and deal with it properly.
So, I'd like to offer a third view for Christians: Mental illness is a physiological reality which can have spiritual implications.
Now, these implications are not that someone does not have enough faith or trust in Jesus. It is not that they are not a "real" Christian. It is rather that the Enemy now has a very easy way to feed lies of self-hate and defeat to a person, deterring them from the purpose God has called them to.
To not recognize the spiritual implications of mental illness is to be trapped in oppression with little to no hope of improvement. To not recognize the physical reality of mental illness is to both minimize a person's struggle and prevent them from receiving necessary help.
It is necessary help, because without taking care of the mental illness, the spiritual oppression will have a site to continue to return to. Demonic oppression is like rats. Rats are attracted to garbage. If you have a rat problem, the only way to get rid of the rats for good is to take out the garbage.
We understandably want easy answers and solutions to our problems. But that is not the way God created. We are complex and dynamic; soul and body. Our humanness is in the unity of our soul and body, so it should not be much of a leap to say that what affects one must also affect the other.
The good news is that we have freedom in Christ! We have psychiatrists, counselors, and medicine. It is my hope that we as the Church can begin to see mental illness more holistically and help people with mental illness find healing and support from both sides of the issue.
Edited by Sarah Thompson