Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

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Minister to those who suffer with depression in your congregation.

When I heard that Pastor Rick Warren had lost a son to mental illness, my heart broke, and I literally cried sitting in my car. I don’t know Pastor Warren personally, nor could I fully understand the certainly unending work that went into his son’s treatment. But I do feel a kindred spirit to his pain. As did Pastor Warren’s son, I spent much of my life battling mental illness — mine was diagnosed as major depressive disorder (commonly known as “depression”), and I know what it is to believe death is more tolerable than the illness.

The National Institute of Mental Health says major depression afflicts more than six percent of the U.S. population, almost 15 million adults. The World Health Organization says clinical depression was the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15–44. For every two homicides committed in the U.S., there are three suicides. Even with the best of intentions and attempts by the most loving of people, some patients will not recover and will take their own lives, as was the sad case for Pastor Warren’s son Matthew. It is a serious and dangerous disorder.

Depression has spiritually troubling symptoms: overwhelming feelings of sadness lasting two weeks or more, trouble eating and sleeping, decreased motivation, and decreased interest in activity (even activities the sufferer used to enjoy). It also can encompass and overwhelm everything in a person’s life, not just one situation or issue. The most severe cases deprive people of cognitive ability, hindering their concentration to where they can no longer form or hold a coherent thought.

I began my journey with Christ in unspeakable emotional darkness. It immobilized me like a cognitive assassin, poisoning my best intentions and expectations. In the deepest throes of the illness, I honestly believed that God wasted His time creating me and that the unbearable pain and sadness I felt all the time would never subside. My expectations of my abilities and my actual abilities were irreconcilable; I found it nearly impossible to hold a thought steady in my head. The idea that God valued me, just the way I was, was utterly ridiculous. In retrospect I often tell people, to their shock, that I understand how mothers suffering from postpartum depression can consider killing their children: they see it as a protective act. They honestly and truly believe their children would be better off dead than suffering through life with them for a mother.

One Sunday evening my husband, despondent and bitter as he helplessly tried to deal with me, put me in the car and drove to a prayer meeting at a local church. We walked in to a group of deeply committed Christians praying for wayward children, church budget concerns, ministry opportunities, employment possibilities, and the like. When my turn came, I couldn’t speak at first; but after a moment, I burst into uncontrolled crying and begged for someone—anyone—to help me. After I finished, they all just stared at me for a moment, even the pastoral staff, and I considered bolting for the door. But then a pastor began to pray: “Father, I have no idea what’s wrong with this poor woman. Just heal her. She’s clearly in so much pain, so much…” His tears made him stutter at this point. “Just put Your hands on her and heal her, Lord. Right now. Please, Father…” The others chimed in at this point and began to lay their hands on me gently with genuine concern. 

Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including and

More from Toni Ridgaway or visit Toni at

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  • Trevor

    Generally excellent as an article on an issue that many do not know how to handle. My only question mark is over referring people to counsellor and psychologists. If medication is not involved then talking therapy should be within the skillset of the pastor who knows how to handle the word. Most psychology is based on secularism. CBT and reality therapy are proved to be the most helpful, and this is because they are the closest to the biblical approach. Of course a medical from a doctor is always wise, and there are times when medication is needed.

    • deandeguara

      At least in California there are issues of licensing and liability. I disagree with your statement that “therapy should be within the skillset of the pastor who knows how to handle the word.” As Toni mentioned we are not to underestimate the power of prayer, meditation, reading the word but many times issues can be biological and require specialized and professional help which many times we are not qualified or equipped to deal with. I think its healthy discussion we can all learn from, I definitely would like to be better equipped.

      • Trevor

        I agree with you. I said talking therapy and things not needing medication, I.e not biological. The pastor should be able to skilfully address issues of the heart. CCEF is a good place to start for resources and training. Of course often its both not either or.

        • deandeguara

          Im following you! Thanks for the mention of resources.

      • mkdb

        You mentioned California, etc. There are many in CA (and elsewhere) who are equipped [Biblically] to deal with these profound issues (apart from the physical). Our ministry has had a tremendous “success” rate … specifically with depression. Others find it amazing how powerfully God/God’s Word “diagnoses” “mental” or “emotional” issues AND provides precise answers. If only we gave the Word more of a chance. Yet the common response is to minimize or even attack people who would dare claim the “Bible” has these answers (2 Pet 1:3-4; 2 Tim 3:15-17; Ps 19:7-11).

        Also, what Biblical Counselors are accused of doing is far from accurate, nevertheless, it sticks in the minds of Christians and so they rarely give it a chance.

  • deandeguara

    Toni, this is very helpful. I personally feel ill equipped when it comes to this issue especcially when I am dealing with someone who has a bipolar disorder or someone who has been diagnosed mentally ill and has stopped taking their medicine. This is becoming a more frequent experience. I think creating a certified list that clergy could follow would be a great resource to have so we could better help those struggling with mental illness. I think your list could be the start of something really resourceful to churches.

  • Karen

    Toni – this is a great article. Thanks so much for being willing to share your story of hope. I have a friend that I have been walking with for about 10 years now that suffers with depression. It has been difficult to know what to do at certain times but the gift of presence has been one of the best gifts I’ve been able to give her. We all need people that will walk with us through dark times and not judge or try to fix us.. We can point people to Jesus – who is the healer of hearts but only He can heal. Thank you for sharing some lifelines that we can throw to hurting people…

  • cnb

    What if the person dealing with clinical depression is the pastor? Where do we turn?

    • jpennington

      cnb, that is a good question and may be directed at Toni but I’ll give you my suggestion. In most cases churches have supporting teams of leaders that help the pastor. Find a person on that team/committee/board and let them know your concerns. They should be able to help from that point. There is a lot more that could be said about your question but it is beyond the scope of your question and concern.

    • mkdb

      … to a BIBLICAL counselor … a person who brings the truth/hope from God Himself (not as so many judge him/her as “calling everything ‘sin'”).

    • Fikile Seaka

      My answer to your question cnb would be “turn to other ministry gifts”. One thing I know about other Pastors is that they are never willing to turn to another men or women of God for help. I hope it is not so in your part of the world.
      There are diverse ministries & gifts but the same Holy Spirit so that as a body we are able to help each other. For example the Prophetic gift goes with healing and deliverance. My advise seek out a men or women of God in the prophetic who will be able to identify the source of the mental illness because I am of the opinion that it is demonic spirits that cause mental illness.
      The Lord has placed the help that we need in another brother or sister but we chose to run to unbelievers.
      I do not believe that God created anyone to live on medication all their life…that is not God. Mental illness is a spirit an unclean spirit that has to be cast out.

  • Marc

    I don’t pretend to know more about depression than others, but it seems to me that when someone in other cultures (ie. third world countries) has an affliction, it is often due to spiritual afflictions. The demonic realm is very real, and it does not only exist in third world countries. I believe that in North America, these spiritual afflictions “need” to be diagnosed as something clinical, because that’s what we do. Every form of mental illness needs to have a name. I have seen people delivered from such afflictions, and it isn’t pretty. I have also heard many others who have been delivered from a spirit of bi-polarism or spirit of schizophrenia.
    I know that this post won’t be accepted by many people. All I know is that there are many Christians out there who are very experienced in deliverances, but anyone can do it (if the Holy Spirit leads them that way). After all, Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 16:15-18 (NLT) are for all believers: 15 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.17 These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. 18 They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
    If you notice that at the beginning of verse 17, it says “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe”. Those who believe are you and me. I encourage everyone to take the Bible’s words at face value and believe that the same divine nature that raised Jesus from the dead, lives in us (2 Peter 1:3).

    Pray for those who are afflicted, whether it’s depression or an illness, you will only start seeing results once you start praying for others. Lay your hands on them (with their permission), and pray. That’s what Jesus told us to do.

    • myredeemerlives

      I wholeheartedly agree with you. This type of depression will only be fully overcome by spiritual warfare. I was disappointed that the article left out the one true solution, which is to use the blood of Jesus to break off the demonic stronghold.

      • Randy Bowden


    • I believe

      Mental illnesses including depression are the works of the devil playing about with people’s minds and some of them don’t require medication but deliverance and exorcism. We Christians fail to help the victims because most of us think we have repented, but not,we think that we are praying the right way, but not, we even think that we are Christians but don’t know that we have strayed away from God. For one to be able to perform miracles, one has to be right with God and have faith in him as well. Before one prays for another, they should repent, be right with God, follow his commands and then lay hands on another person and they will be healed. Its the prayer of a righteous man that works.

  • David Hayes

    As a pastor, I lived this. I wanted to die. I got good counsel, a year of anti-depressants (which I fought against at first), a sabbatical, and after six months was improved and after six years was much back to myself. But a new self.
    Today I exercise for my sanity (“match physical stress tot he me natal stresses of your days” was great advice. I’ve left caffeine behind, after being addicted for years, and I don’t work as hard.
    I’ll never be the same. But I can live with who I am.
    My novel reflects this event. “The Runaway Pastor.”

  • niceday

    Obviously God cannot work on cases like mental illness because you have already decided He cannot do anything about it. It’s not how much time you spend on prayer and reading the Bible,or it a biological issue. it’s a matter of believing God he sets us free from bondages.

  • RoyalJ

    I’m a mother of 4 and I try my best to raise them in knowing no matter what you have the victory in Christ
    Lately I have seen my children especially my eldest son suffer in life growth situation
    He has been in deep depression mode since he was about 16 till now and he is 20yrs old
    I see my son the way God sees him but other times I can’t
    It’s hard to see for the simple fact I have allowed satan to bother me with the ugly thoughts of maybe someone has harm my son and etc
    Although my faith is strong in the Lord for others and their situations and I undoubtedly believe or even in my own life as we’ll but it just seems extremely hard to deal with when it comes down to my children especially my eldest child while he’s going through this mental battle
    Just seems like I can’t Reach Him

    I know that now this is a very deep issue that’s beyond just our mediator Wii

  • RoyalJ

    I’m a mother of 4 and I try my best to raise them in knowing no matter what you have the victory in Christ
    Lately I have seen my children especially my eldest son suffer in life growth situation
    He has been in deep depression mode since he was about 16 till now and he is 20yrs old
    I see my son the way God sees him but other times I can’t
    It’s hard to see for the simple fact I have allowed satan to bother me with the ugly thoughts of maybe someone has harm my son and etc
    Although my faith is strong in the Lord for others and their situations and I undoubtedly believe or even in my own life as we’ll but it just seems extremely hard to deal with when it comes down to my children especially my eldest child while he’s going through this mental battle
    Just seems like I can’t Reach Him

    I know that now this is a very deep issue that’s beyond just our mediator Wii

  • SwaagTeam LullChicken

    I know that this beyond medicine and medical or even clinical studies

  • SwaagTeam LullChicken

    This is the continuation over my old battle with mental attacks from my 4 children but mainly my eldest son
    I wanted the readers to know you have to first recognize what or who the problem is
    It’s almost like doing a science project
    You are simply discovering WHAT WHO WHEN WHERE AND WHAT CAUSE IT ETC


  • SwaagTeam LullChicken


  • Robin

    Anxiety and depression are things we REALLY need to pay attention to. Only those who have ever lived at the bottom of that pit can truly understand the agony. I am one of those people. I didn’t ask for the experience. I am, by nature, an optimist. My tendency is to float on the seas of life – it’s hard to weigh me down. However, I reached a point in my life where so many things, especially watching cancer eat the life out of my father, piled up on top of me and the weight was enough to sink me to the bottom. I didn’t know how to get out of it and it is ridiculous to assume that someone can just pray or think their way out of this hole.

    God designed our bodies in a wonderful way. All things connect, ergo we cannot separate the spiritual from the physical. Our brains and nervous systems are physical things, yet they are effected tremendously by our spiritual state and vice versa. Our spirits are the drivers, so to speak, in the vehicles of our bodies, which, as I said, include our brains and nervous systems. When one area is stressed, it affects all other areas and, if the stress is not removed soon enough, it can lead to physical (I will include mental, as the brain is a physical thing) and spiritual debilitation. Sure, demons do what they can to take us out of the game by attacking our spirits and our bodies, but an anxious and depressed person needs more than just a prayer that the demons go elsewhere.

    If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression (they often travel together), you need to know that this is a problem with your vehicle and that it doesn’t mar who you really are. Someday, you will trade your sick vehicle in for a permanently holy and healthy one, but, for now, take care of it. That includes being compassionate with your mind and body. Acknowledge that you are feeling hopeless, anxious, depressed and just tell your body, “It’s ok.” Don’t try to pressure yourself out of an anxiety or depression attack. You might not be able to believe this, but just calmly acknowledging that your body is messed up can actually stop an attack, because calmness is your best weapon against that cortisol that is wreaking havoc in your system. You have nothing to lose in being calm. Learn to relax and breathe deeply through your belly. That will calm you even more and give you more control over this nightmare. Your out-of-control endocrine system will welcome the break from the fight-or-flight state that it hasn’t known how to turn off.

    When you are anxious and depressed, you probably can’t feel God’s presence and may be searching wildly for confirmation that He actually exists and that you have a purpose in being here. If you have children, you need to know that you didn’t make a big mistake by bringing them into a world of pain, death and hopelessness. Sorry to say, I didn’t actually FEEL God’s presence for over a year once I started to recover from depression, but he was ALWAYS there and I knew when he caused things to happen in my life to heal me, even when I felt like garbage. Hang in there. You will feel God’s presence again and he has never left your side and never will. What you are going through is actually a blessing, because it tests your faith, maybe almost to your death, but, when you come out of this, your faith in your heavenly Father will be unshakable, and he needs those kinds of people! I have never been more sure of how real God is. Having the need to seek and find purpose has led me to him and him alone. I see the complexity in nature, in my own body, and I know that it couldn’t have happened by accident. I read the book of Psalms and see that David, too, certainly endured his share of agony, anxiety and depression, and so did his son Solomon. I wonder, “Why didn’t I see this in the Bible before?” David was one of few people who actually KNEW God and KNEW just how desperately he depended on him for survival. As much as I wouldn’t wish the torture of anxiety and depression on anyone, I know that everyone needs to feel deep-down the hopelessness and weakness of their flesh, they need to know just how fragile their minds and bodies really are, in order to fully appreciate how much Jesus’ death on the cross really means to us. It is when we realize, really realize our frailty, that we also realize how wonderful it is to be lifted of such a burden by Jesus.

    One more thing, a physical thing you can do that will greatly help restore balance to your body and mind. If you are not allergic to fish proteins, start taking fish oil supplements. There is a book called, “The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression without Drugs and without Talk Therapy” by David Servan-Schreiber. He recommends a daily supplement of 2000-2500 mg EPA (an omega 3) for those suffering from anxiety and depression. Omega-3’s are essential for brain and nerve health and those suffering from anxiety and depression are likely deficient in omega-3’s. Flax seed oil also contains omega-3’s, but it is not as readily available to our bodies and our bodies have to work hard to convert them to a form we can use. Of course, if you are taking any medication, discuss this with your doctor before starting to take omega-3’s. Aside from the obvious fish protein allergies, I don’t know of any serious contraindications associated with taking omega-3 supplements. Also, if you can, eat salmon at least once a week. Eat lots of “green light” food (fresh veggies and fruits, especially the dark green ones) and the right amount of “yellow light” foods (whole grains, lean cuts of meat and fish, eggs, legumes, healthy oils, etc.) and severely limit your consumption of “red light” foods (you know, junk) that can mess up your body and brain chemistry. Especially stay away from high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and colours and hydrogenated oils.

    Even when you feel like garbage, get out there and help someone else. Ever heard of helper’s high? Well, I am totally stoked on that stuff. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to know I am making a difference in people’s lives (I teach “Godly science” to at-risk kids).

    Remember that you are wonderfully made and that your body is just stressed out. Our body chemistry can fall out of tune, resulting in our feeling awful and even tortured. Just take one moment at a time (As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “You only have moments to live.”), because you can’t be anywhere else, right? Don’t worry about the past or the future, but take the time to fully be in this moment right now. Love and forgive your body and treat it well by feeding it the right food. Feed your mind and spirit the right food, including high doses of the Word of God. Relax. So what if you feel like you’re going to die? I say, bring it on! My God is in charge, no matter how I feel, and I know that I will come out of this fire indestructible. God knows what he is doing and my future is secure in him. I KNOW I am weak, something that a lot of people really don’t realize about themselves yet. Lord, may you be glorified and may your strength be magnified in my weakness! My weak mind and body are not what’s important: all I can see is Jesus, and, even though I don’t deserve it, seeing His face makes my mind and body strong.

    Be blessed.

  • Darla Weaver

    Thank you Toni for your brave honesty and insight. As a pastor, I felt like you were writing my story as well. I hope that wisdom will prevail in people as they read your words. God cared for Elijah in the middle of his pain. Perhaps the Christian community will soon learn how to help the mentally ill as they help the physically ill. We just need support and understanding like Elijah did. Finding a Christian Psychiatrist who will pray over you, give you natural solutions like exercise and proper diet, and help with the proper meds as needed only is like finding a stream in the desert.

  • pablo taylor

    There are many mental issues that a lot of church going people suffer besides depression. it is said that one third of Christian men has an issue or addition to pornography. There are also emotional issues that stem from childhood. Problems with sexual desires, sometimes desires that would be considered abnormal. The church needs to address all human issues instead of condemning people for struggling.

    A Christian who struggles with homosexuality, pedophilia, etc. may also feel rejected and
    need people who would be patient and loving. Jesus come for the sick people of
    this world and not for the well. And yet, we as Christians live in an isolated
    bubble of ignorance. We try to impress our brothers and sisters on how good we
    are. We show off of how much we pray and love God. We try to look our best,
    when in reality many of us are really suffering with so many emotional, mental,
    spiritual, and sexual problems.

    Worse, are the testimonies where someone gives some problem to the Lord and now they claim to be 100% free and totally healed. Yet, Paul, prayed probably hundreds of times for GOD to remove HIS THORN OF THE FLESH, God did not remove Paul’s THORNS, instead God said, MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU. WHEN YOU ARE WEAK, I AM STRONG!

    It seems that God is not going to remove all are thorns of the flesh, no matter how hard we pray. God is not going to remove all are thorns no matter how much we try to believe.

    Rather He will leave us WEAK, as being WEAK keeps us on our knees seeking God’s grace and strength.

    Paul says he delights in talking about his weaknessess.

    • Katherine Genea

      Excellent point !

    • I believe

      Being a Christians does not mean you become immune to illnesses etc. Actually, the devil will pursue you with all his mighty just so that you see no point in being a Christian. The only place that people will not suffer illnesses and worldly problems is heaven. So as we live in this world awaiting heaven, God gave us sufficient strength to cope day by day. Most of the times its not the professionals that are able to help but the people we meet in each and every day of our lives, relatives, friends, sometimes strangers who we sit next to in the bus or meet in the grocery shop, who carry assignments and answers from God to help us. Mostly these are the people we ignore or look down upon, the people who we think are of low calibre and have no say in our lives, the people who when the phone rings we don’t pick up because we think they are boring or they are a waste of time. If someone is not well they should talk to someone, it does not have to be a professional. There are special people that God uses as instruments but the problem is that these people don’t usually meet our expectations in appearance and profile that we don’t even want to speak to them or to be seen with them or we ignore them completely.

  • pablo taylor

    A Man Named Bob

    Let me tell you about a man named Bob who suffered from intense schizophrenic problems and had to take a lot of medicine every day.

    He always got tired of taking his daily meds because of the dependency and also the side effects. He just wanted to be totally free of schizophrenic and it crazy inner voices. He was tired of having to trust in his meds so that he wouldn’t go crazy, or do something

    I invited him to come with me to an evangelical church service that I had been
    attending. What a disaster that was. I introduced him to some of the leaders of
    the church and suggested that he talk to them about getting spiritual help and

    After a while he got tired and wanted to leave. I definitely understood as sometimes
    the service can last over two hours. As we were leaving the same church leaders
    approached us strongly opposed to our leaving by suggesting that he was not
    trusting in Christ for his healing. The more they tried to convince us to stay
    the more frustrated Bob became. Finally we left and the whole time that I was
    driving Bob was expressing his anger about the leaders. He actually enjoyed the
    service but as it got into its third hour he just wanted to leave as he had
    other commitments. He was extremely offended by the leaders running out to us
    and their manipulation of getting us to stay. He said that he probably would
    never go back.

    Bob was a great person. He accepted my invitation to go with me several times to the
    nursing home on Sunday afternoons to visit lonely people. There was a blind
    lady who had her own issues and they got along quite well as he always made her

    I could never criticize a blind person for not seeing. I would never understand what it
    is like not being able to see. Who am I to be the judge? Especially since he or
    she can see things that I could never see. While at the time who was I to judge
    my friend Bob. He was the type of person who was real and did not care what
    people thought of him. He had struggled all his life and was a survivor in
    spite of his problems.

    They Preach That Everyone Is Going to Hell

    I did quickly learn that I must be careful how I expressed myself in the church.
    People are so focused into their own ideas of who they think God is and so into
    their own understanding of what they believe the Bible says that they can be so
    insensitive to other people. Especially to the down and out.

    They can be quite cruel to the broken hearted with their pompous ideas. They preach that
    everyone is going to hell except themselves, that somehow they found the truth
    and that we have to drop everything and accept what they teach and preach. I
    know this personally as I had been a part of their various movements for years.
    Hopefully, I am not still teaching that.

    I hope that I have been humbled by my own problems and issues then to stand on a
    pedestal and have the nerve to judge and criticize others for not being what I
    think they should be.

    Rebuke the Demons and Drive Them Out

    Many evangelical movements believe that people with schizophrenic are demon
    possessed and that the voices that they hear are those of actual demons. Many
    have powerful prayer meeting to which they rebuke the demons and drive them out
    of the poor soul. I’m sure that Bob had problems in the past with some of these
    overzealous groups.

    He Wanted to Be Free

    One Friday afternoon Bob called me on the phone. He was feeling lonely and just
    wanted someone to talk to. He told me that he was going to trust God for his
    healing and that he was off his meds. He said that he wanted to be free. He
    drove to my house and we drive to the take out Chinese restaurant and brought
    the fired rice, wontons, and egg rolls back to my house and my housemates, Bob,
    and I enjoyed dinner again. He left the unused sweet and sour sauce in our
    refrigerator. He said to save it for the next time, and then he said good bye.

    The Four o-Clock Train

    I was a little concerned for him during the weekend since I haven’t heard back but then
    I just went with my own things. Tuesday afternoon when I got home from my job I
    got news of Bob’s suicide. He had driven his car about 20 miles out of town and
    parked his car along the side of the railroad tracks of the New Haven Metro
    North line to New York City.

    Bob wrote a letter about how he wanted to be free from all his schizophrenic
    problems. He then left the note in the windshield of his car and waited for the
    four o’clock train. Moments later the medical emergency workers were pulling
    his deformed and dismantle body off the tracks.

    I had never imagined that that Friday evening, after having take-out Chinese food
    with my friend Bob, would be the last time I would ever see him alive. Every
    time I opened the refrigerator and would see his sweet and sour sauce in the
    inside door it would always remind me of him.

    Oh, how I wished that I knew of his pain and suffering. I had wanted to be there for him.
    Perhaps, I did not understand his specific problems, but I did understand
    emotional pain because of being traumatized. I certainly didn’t think he made
    the right decision in stopping his meds and then giving into the voices to run
    into a speeding train. But I definitely understand the pain and frustration. I
    know all too well the inner anger of being enslaved to sin and being chained by the evil passions of the mind.

    • Jeannette Shields

      But, you were his friend when he needed one! Don’t sell yourself so short!

      • pablo taylor


    • Dalia

      And this is the definition of a true friend. Your friend’s suicide must be so sad for you, but you did what you could. You tried so hard to help him. I’m so sorry it had to end the way it did.

      • pablo taylor

        Thank you.

    • Bro. Bob

      Pablo, I am sorry for your pain and the pain of Bob’s life, rest in the fact that you are his friend and he had peace & safety with you,,I Just prayed for peace for you..BB

      • pablo taylor

        Muchas gracias

    • R

      I think that’s why we have Luke 10:27. Nothing matters more than the love and compassion of God. We might not understand what’s going on in the heart of someone who is suffering, but Jesus did teach us how to love. What you did for your friend was the best medicine anyone could have given him. One day, when you see Jesus face to face, I’m sure you’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” as you join Bob and all the others in His presence in their dance of joy and freedom. I can’t wait to be part of that crowd, but I have some loving to do down here first.:o)

  • Pablo Mendieta Ossio

    Dear Toni:
    Thanks for this Scripture-based and experience filled essay about this issue. After reading comments of Christian people regarding Pr. Warren’s familiar tragedy, I realize that many people, including leaders, don’t know about this issue and became critiqs and made sarcastic comments about that. Even more, people with emotional issues feel a sense of rejection from God and Christians.
    I strongly encourage you to expand this essay in order to transform it in a booklet. It will be very useful for people who need love, support and, in some cases, clinical assistance and mostly for Christian community who need to know about this issue. I also give you an advice to include anxiety and bipolar disorder.
    I have been dealing with severe anxiety during many years and I experienced some of the feelings and reactions you described. But thanks to it, now I have empathy with people with emotional disorder and I am devoted to help them.
    Blessings, Pablo

  • Steve

    As a Christian (with an M.Div.) and Licensed Mental Health professional who works with the severely and persistently mentally ill and also work in a Christian Counseling center I want to offer three bits of advice: 1) Pastors/ leaders should refer people with signs of mental distress to counselors/health professionals for assistance even if the severity of the problem seems to be minor. The vast majority of pastors are not trained to deal effectively with mental illness or even to determine if someone is “severely” mentally ill. Would you wait until someone was severely physically ill to refer them to a doctor?
    2) Regarding treatment for mental illness and prayer – certainly prayer should be a part of treatment – I pray with clients if they are willing and pray for clients privately even if they do not desire prayer. Prayer alone is not always the answer – even Jesus used mud in one case. To suggest that the reason people don’t get better is due to the lack of faith – well the fact is people prayed for don’t always get well, even when many very faithful people are praying for them – I suspect God may not want all of us to get well when prayed for – at any rate such simplistic and faithless (not being willing to trust that God may have a better answer) explanations are at a minimum not helpful and worse yet very judgmental. Sometimes the most effective treat is counseling, sometimes it is a combination of counseling and medications. To suggest, as many do, that psychotropic medications are evil or wrong is again at least not helpful and at worst – EVIL. Many people are helped tremendously by anti depressants and anti psychotic medications – just like millions of people are helped by diabetic medications, blood pressure medications, etc. Would you tell these people to stop taking their meds? 3) Pastors should not wait until they have problems to see a counselor – oh there I’ve said it – pastors are in a high stress job and would be wise to see a counselor on a regular ongoing basis to deal with the issues of their jobs – just like doctors and policeman and others highly stressed people should. But frankly most are unwilling to – maybe because they are afraid of the stigma of seeing a “mental health professional” or maybe they are too proud and self sufficient – all I know is that if you really care about mental HEALTH – then you should set the example by dealing with your issues on a regular basis, just like you should exercise, take your medications and pray on a regular basis. It is much better to remain healthy them to get ill and have to get healthy again. Blessing to all you pastors – go see a “gifted mental health professional healer” to set an example and to stay healthy!

  • Steve Bloem

    Thank you Toni for your piece on
    mental illness. I felt you said some important things about mental illness. As
    a pastor, I appreciate your openness and transparency about your depression

    I am fifty seven years old and was first
    diagnosed with major depression when I was twenty nine. I have been told my depression was demonic,
    because of my flawed character, and because I had anger turned inward. None of
    these were true. My wife Robyn and I have now been married for almost thirty
    five years. I was after much suffering able to get the right treatment.

    In 2005 we were able to write a book called Broken
    Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It. Because mental illness finds itself into
    every nation and people group our book has an international audience. We also
    do seminars and have support groups for those with mental illness. My sister committed
    suicide in 2006. She suffered from bipolar disorder and prescription drug

    A person commits suicide every 17 minutes in the United States. We need to talk
    more about suicide.

    Rev. Steve Bloem, B.A., M.M. CTPC
    Heartfelt Counseling Ministries
    Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410

  • Ben Styles

    Excellent article, Toni! My wife dealt with major depression/bi-polar II in the late 1990’s. Thankfully, the church I pastored was loving and supportive. There is much confusion in the Christian community and a level of stigma remains. Few helping professionals (psychiatrists, hospitals, counselors, pastors, etc.) encourage a holistic approach to treatment which consists of quality counseling, Godly encouragement (spiritual disciplines), drug therapy, behavioral counseling and an understanding of spiritual warfare. With all of these, my wife is now whole and healthy in body, mind and spirit (her Christian psychiatrist once told me that her depression was so severe that she was in the body 1-2% of the patients he had ever seen). Thank you for your article. Things are changing for the better in part because of articles like yours.

  • debra roland

    Just no. Sending a clinically depressed person to a Christian counselor makes it worse. Please stop doing that. This is a medical condition, and should be medically treated. Psychiatrists are real doctors trained in this, and they are NOT “tools of satan”.

    • R

      Actually, there is a lot even the medical community doesn’t know about treating mental illness, and honest doctors will tell you that. I’ve learned that adopting a mind open to all available options is usually the best way to go. Medication alone is not a miracle cure, and some medications only make things worse. Do what you can, seek the help you can from where you can get it (that’s what I did), and hang in there. “Medical conditions” are not limited to physical remedies. The systems in our bodies, including our brain, are interconnected, and it helps to know that there are things you can do as an individual to aid in your healing. As Dr. Bill Sears says, “Practice the pills AND skills model of health.”

  • mkdb

    I guarantee that there are MANY solutions to depression in Scripture (I’m not saying to “all” depression).

    AND I guarantee that many will be upset with someone like me for even suggesting this.

    AND I guarantee that–for this and other reasons–many will not believe there are answers in God’s Word, nor will they even look for them or seek help from those that do.

    Is your Bible that small?

  • Jeannette Shields

    Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate your writing this, as I do not know anything about the subject and want to be available as a friend to someone going through this. I am sorry for your pain.

  • mathman_12345

    Toni, I read a LOT of these articles on this and other websites, and I rarely comment, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this one. I am a 46 year old pastor that suffers from severe OCD and bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed in 2001 after it had completely taken over my life. I was at that point to where I wanted to end my life because I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. A friend of mine got me to see that I needed help, so I went to see a psychotherapist. I had mixed feelings about it because I had heard preachers say all my life that true Christians don’t suffer depression and mental illnesses because God gives us a “sound mind” (taken out of context). I found out that my problem was biological, and that I had inherited it from my father. After trying several combinations of medications, I now consider myself “cured.” I have had only minimal problems over the past several years. I have learned to identify what causes my obsessions, how to control them, and how to stop them. It was extremely painful, and it took the help of a praying friend to get me there. My point is that I prayed many times for God to help me, and for a while, I thought that he had forsaken me. But now I can see how I was led to a professional, and later to a friend, that would help me overcome all of this. I now believe that when someone suffers any kind of illness, and believers pray for it to go away, God does one of three things: He takes the problem away, He provides treatments through medications and therapies to take care of the problem, or He gives you the grace and strength to live with the problem in this life and heals you when you make it home. Mental illness is not always caused by emotional stress or abuse or other bad situations. Sometimes it is biological. And even though I agree that satan is behind illness of any kind, I also believe that God can work in whatever way he chooses, whether by miracle, medications and procedures, or by giving grace. I am able to serve the Lord as a pastor today because God chose to heal me through my medications. I have tried stopping them several times, and I always I regret it. I believe God CAN take it away, but what I have found is that my experience has enabled me to help others that are hurting in similar ways. Even though I sometimes wish that I didn’t have to be concerned with OCD and bipolar disorder, I am thankful that God has used it and me in helping others with similar problems.

  • Lincy

    Depression or mental disturbance occurs only when a person loses his/her FAITH in GOD. It was said – Depression has spiritually troubling symptoms – this statement is very wrong. The correct statement is – a spiritually troubled person has stress or depression symptoms. When we lose our focus on the Will of God, we start to believe- what we want, is what God wants. When the goal is not achieved, the person falls into a state of disturbance.

    That does not mean that, a person can never feel sad or stressed or troubled. If they do not feel these emotions, then they are not normal people, but rather evil or hard cored in heart. It is perfectly normal to face all these emotions, only when we start focusing inwards rather than upward towards GOD, these symptoms cause negative impact on physical health. The others bounce back to normal as they hand over the problems to God.

    When a person gets a sickness that has no cure, he feels troubled at heart, but accepts his fate. If he loses his job in the same time, his level of control may waver giving him pain, and if his wife leaves him, he can get depressed. When he is already facing multiple problems and he hears his son is in hospital after an accident, he can get mentally disturbed, no matter how much faithful he has been to God.

    Crying loudly to God, can release much pain. That is what King David did. He was a man with multiple problems – his own wives, children, so called friends, ministers, army, own national problems and attacking enemy’s. He could easily become a mental patient, but his faith in GOD and openly crying his problems to GOD saved his life. In today’s world, crying is called a weakness. If many could do it with someone they can trust – which can be no other but God, there will be no depression, stress or mental patients. Once tears are down and burden handed over to GOD, people will find courage to move forward positively.

    Guiding an already depressed person to trust in God is not a easy task, they will reject God rather than accept. If only we could teach our children (when young) to TRUST in God, may the situation be good or bad, to accept it as it is, and use every situation in our life to uplift the name of GOD high above, so all can see HIM instead of us, then we are fulfilling HIS WILL. If Jeremiah did not lament so much, he would have gone into a state of depression and we would never have got the book called LAMENTATION. There is so much we need to learn from the people of Faith mentioned in the Bible.

    We say – we have faith!
    but do we really have true faith?
    Even my faith is not 1% strong, but learning to TRUST on the unseen is a journey, that will keep us fit and healthy.

  • Michael Morgan

    I have not read all of the writting but what I have read is very interesting!

  • Michael Morgan

    As A christian counselor with a Ph.D. in the field I can say that the author is right on the right track with most of her assesment of how to help individuals with mental illness I would only add that it is key to know the individuals as well as you can so that you can pick up on on any of the signs that there is a problem especially before it is too late. Secondly you have to know that a person can only be helped if they a willing.

  • Dan Chalikeme

    These serious conditions needs to be treated in every way possible.

    1. Spiritually – sin issues can lead to serious distress. As mentioned earlier in this stream of conversation there may be very serious spiritual conditions going on. Lack of spiritual intimacy with our Loving Lord doesn’t help a bit either. I’ve been delivered from physical conditions – but never my major depression.
    2. Physically – exercise, among the mild to moderately depressed, can do wonders.
    3. Emotionally – sometimes people just need a friend. If it goes over a friend’s (or pastor’s) head they should talk to a psychologist.
    4. Medically – there may be an underlying physical illness.
    5. Psychiatrically – yup – medication, monitored closely, taking as directed, and doing all of the above has helped me. In fact, I was never called to do and i would never be able to be a pastor until I treated my mental illness properly.

    It’s a familial condition in my case. Those who treat it well are doing wonderfully. Those who don’t are periodically in hospitals, rendered useless in their rooms, or in one case have ended their life needlessly through suicide.

  • Brad H.

    As a pastor who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995 I have come to know the power of the church reaching out to those who struggle with mental health issues. No doubt professionals in the mental health system are necessary. Yet, if one remains dependent on only the mental health professionals you can easily develop a “learned helplessness” and believe that “coping with your disorder” is the best you will be able to experience in life.

    Medicine and therapy take you a long ways, but there is still a LOT of other work the patient/consumer must do. And that’s where the importance of peer to peer support comes in- which is one of the new dynamics of the mental health recovery. Research has been showing that people with mental health issues that attend healthy support group meetings that are peer to peer “do” better in recovery than those who do not attend a support group. Peers helping peers, peers even being trained as peer support specialists is incredibly powerful and helps folks move past “just coping” to living their lives with a “wellness-mindset.”

    Four years ago we started a group at our church called Fresh Hope (Kind of like Celebrate Recovery or Divorce Care- but instead for those who have mental health issues.) It is a Christ centered support group for those who suffer from mood disorders and their families. We started it because there were no other Christian support groups out there- and the groups I had attended left me even more depressed and sad. It was usually just a lot of folks trying to learn how to “cope” and not “live life in spite” of mental illness. Certainly there are those who have chronic mental illness- but, more times than not they still are not living the best life possible because many times they have not put into action the wellness tools. And who better can help them do that than other peers- but, also peers who understand hope that we have in Christ Jesus!

    Fresh Hope has grown into multiple groups now…with even others starting in other states. In 28 years of pastoring – I have never seen people’s lives change so dramatically. Nor have I ever seen people simply flock “in the door” because we were meeting an unmet need. This is another way that churches can help those with mental health issues.

    The “older” statistic is that one out of four people in the United States has a mental health issue. However, just recently I read that is now nearly one out of three! Trust me, those with mental health issues struggle to find the hope to go on. I know, I’ve been there. And I know that when I was suicidal one of the keys was making a faith decision to choose to have hope based upon Christ…cause I certainly did not feel one bit hopeful. Instead, I felt like I had fallen into a deep…very deep and dark hole with no way out.

  • Hobbes And Bella

    I am in a dark place where each day is a struggle to just survive. I never understood depression until now. Even my body aches from it, I can’t focus or concentrate and sometimes just breathing is a chore. How did I allow this to happen? What did I do to cause it? I don’t know but I have come to realize that I cannot shake myself out of it… I can’t pray enough, read the Bible enough, say the right things, do the right things… be good enough to change it or make it go away. I have very little energy to even try. What I
    used to love, I no longer find enjoyment in. Not even church. My Pastor seems to think I must be backsliding because I’m finding it necessary to step back from some church responsibilities. Before this, I might have thought the same thing of someone else.

    This is what I have come to realize: right now in the midst of this deep, dark valley I’m no less saved than I was at my emotional and spiritual height because my “emotional
    soundness and doing good and righteous acts” didn’t save me in the first place. I understand fully that “emotional soundness and doing good and righteous acts” is the
    fruit of a heart that is in right standing with God but there are also times and seasons when all we can do is stand and trust God. I’m saved because of WHO Jesus is and what He has done for me on the cross. The grace of God isn’t something I earn and parade around like a trophy, it is the very manifestation of Who God is. Love manifests itself through the outpouring of His grace and mercy.

    One evening while feeling very lost, and hopeless unable to swim to the surface and
    break through the despair, I decided either Jesus Christ is enough or I’m doomed because all my strength to save myself, help myself or even assist God in helping myself was beyond my strength and ability. I literally flung myself at Jesus’ feet out of fear that He would soon fall on me and crush me. After all, such feelings of dark gloom and despair had to be because I was failing as a Christian, right? I cried out to Him with all my being and told Him I had nothing left in me and that His grace was ALL that was left and my only hope. I don’t know how long I cried and snotted but when I had finished He said, “FINALLY!” Really? Finally? I’m dying here, feeling like a washed up, dried up, beat up, fed up Christian as well as a huge disappointment to God and He says, “ FINALLY”? It dawned on me; I had never truly grasped what He had been trying to teach me about His grace and the finished work of the cross. I had reached that moment when I stopped trying to fix what was broken IN me and began to trust in Jesus’ brokenness on the cross FOR me. “FINALLY!”. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

    I’m still battling depression. It’s been about a year now. I don’t know when relief will come but nonetheless, in suffering or peace in sorrow or joy, in sickness or health in ministry and in life regardless of circumstance, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 2 Timothy 1-12


WATCH: Ministry Isn’t Overwork: It’s Overflow

Vineyard National Director Phil Strout talks about every pastor’s need for soul care.