Pastors such as Shane Idleman of the Westside Christian Fellowship Church, are calling on Christians to take a more holistic approach to mental illness and not dismiss the problem as either solely psychological or only a spiritual one. However, the pastor of the Lancaster, Calif., church says that in most cases, worshiping God should be a first choice instead of medication.
Idleman writes that Christians who are mentally or emotionally suffering should examine their hearts and delve deep into their spiritual and physical habits to identify if they are lacking in either or both areas. In his recent blog post he states that both could be contributing factors to mental health issues.
"We can't tell a clinically depressed person to 'just get over it…pray and move on,' but on the flip side, we can't dismiss the fact that some depression is self-inflicted," writes Idleman. "Please don't misunderstand, I'm not discounting the deep emotional and psychological pain associated with depression and anxiety, but I do want to remind you that God makes provision for all of our needs. There may be a time and a place for medication, but, in most cases, it should not be the first thing we turn to. The first step must be toward God…toward worship."
Although it may not always be the case, Idleman notes that part of what may occur in a person's spiritual life can have much to do with an individual's state of mind. He writes that "depression, fear, and anxiety are often by-products of a misaligned heart" while emphasizing that worship has the power to break down those mental issues.
While he believes taking medication for treatment of such issues in some cases is appropriate, Idleman thinks it should not be the first choice to turn to. He insists the first step must be towards God.
"I encourage those suffering with depression and anxiety to look first at their spiritual and physical health. I'm not minimizing depression or anxiety, they are debilitating, but we shouldn't immediately assume that we need a prescription without first checking the obvious. Do we have a strong devotional and prayer life? Are we monitoring our thought life and media choices carefully? Are we taking care of our body?," he writes.
Individuals should also take into consideration their physical health, which oftentimes is neglected he says.
"God sometimes uses pain, sickness, and disease to draw us closer to Him…poor nutrition affects us negatively in several different ways. High levels of caffeine or nicotine, for example, lead to irritation, anger, impatience, anxiety, and worry…the exact opposite of the fruit of the Spirit," Idleman says.
He adds, "Clearly, health plays a vital role in our overall attitude. When we feed the body what it needs, it will run better. In the same way that many cases of diabetes can be reversed by proper nutrition, so can many cases of depression."
Idleman also emphasizes that his intent is not to be legalistic about what he feels might be the causes for several mental issues, but rather help make Christians aware that many cases can be curtailed if spiritual and physical health were priorities.
Each May, Americans recognize Mental Health Month with events and activities in communities across the country. This year's theme is "Get Connected" to emphasize the role of social relationships in protecting and improving mental health.
For more information, visit The National Alliance on Mental Illness.