I was first exposed to the conversation on mental illness when I began dating my husband in 2016. When we met, he was writing an article about the church, and it’s often, poor response to mental illness. Very early on in our relationship, he shared his experiences with depression and attempted suicide. This piece gave him the chance to tell the uninhibited truth of his journey with depression and attempted suicide, and lead Christians into a conversation on how to play a better role in helping individuals and families.
At the time, I was the proud girlfriend of the “with it blogger” who lived through mental illness and now could advocate for populations who needed a voice and platform. It felt like a piece of his past, something he had lived and come through on the other side. I never fathomed it as something we could deal with in the future.
So, life went on; we rapidly moved further in our relationship to engagement, marriage, and settling into our lives as newlyweds.
My husband and I, as many married couples would tell you, had a tough first year of marriage. We both experienced abrupt transition— moving to a new place, establishing roots, and experiencing ups and downs in job and financial security.
We both struggled with the transitions and valleys. We both felt seasons of darkness. Luckily for me, I had connected with a mental health counselor early on in our marriage.
It took my husband a bit longer to realize he, too, needed outside support. One late night, after consultation with a mental health counselor, he told me he was manifesting symptoms of depression.
I immediately felt alone, afraid, and unsure of how I could handle the circumstances I’d seen with my community. My heart swelled with thoughts of explaining his mental health to family, friends, and even our future kids.
Growing up, my Indian mother couldn’t even say the word depression out loud. My community struggled to verbalize and empathize with those who struggled or lived with someone who dealt with mental illness.
Those who lived with it were often alone, ashamed, or/and too under-resourced to deal with its impacts well. Those on the outside didn’t understand or care to grasp its effects. Spouses and children in those homes were often left to fend for themselves, often without adequate mental, emotional, and even physical care.
Worst of all, many members of our Christian community reasoned mental illness as a result of “not praying hard enough” or the consequences of indescribable sin. No one thought of mental illness as an actual disease that needed diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care.
Over time, that same fear had subconsciously engulfed me.
As my husband shared this intimate struggle, I immediately envisioned a life of burden— one in which I was the primary provider, caregiver, and without much support. My concerns about loving and living with someone with mental illness have a lot to do with fear of the unknown— the hidden conversations swept around the rug in my culture and community.
All of us deal with seasons of emotional and mental hardship. They are laden with the challenges of our family of origin, how we’ve learned to receive and accept our emotions, and how we manage stress. Many of us have been taught to push those feelings of burden, anxiety, and frustration under the rug because we were never given the words, capacity, or even agency to face them.
In the days of the early church, chronicled in the book of Acts 2:42-47 and later in Acts 2:32-34, the church played the role of provider. A “deep sense of awe”— Luke writes of those who followed Jesus— incited a response in those believers to provide for the needs of their community. People gave without conditions — their wealth, possessions, and things to support the needs of their family in Christ. No believer lacked.
Growing up in the church, I saw many of us give to the obvious needs of our community— people who needed food, shelter, and protection were taken care of. I knew and still know those who will stand in the gap, sacrificing their own self-comfort to give to the physical needs of those around us.
Does the internal battle of mental illness— the one where culture prevented us from speaking plainly about our experience— qualify in our role as “provider” in the church?
The early church lived in the midst of devastating physical, mental, and emotional persecution. There was no rulebook— the Holy Spirit emboldened them to share the gospel through their words and deeds at all costs.
The early church knew and practiced this—to fellowship, break bread, and to be together (Acts 2:42).
There may be no rulebook for us to unwrite the church’s deep fear of mental illness.
As our community of faith evolves to bring a new lens of empathy to this need, I believe the early church’s commitment to authentic, transparent, and empathetic fellowship lends itself the urgency to end the loneliness, lack of support, and distrust many have of the church in mental health.
The apostles prayed this after Peter and John were released from the council of rulers, elders, and teachers of religious law (Acts 4:57) after standing up for the Gospel after threats of persecution.
“29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
I believe the Holy Spirit can embolden us to “preach” the Gospel of Jesus— of grace without conditions— and to create new spaces where individuals and families can freely and openly find the love, support, and understanding they need from the church to mental health.
That this Gospel brings openness, security, and trust in the family of God.
“31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”
All I ever knew about mental health were its perceived outcomes— not the love, commitment, and self-sacrifice of families and individuals who ensured their loved ones were supported, prayed for, and encouraged to receive proper care.
My husband shared his burden with me because he trusted I could love him in his challenges. He also knew, without my support, he couldn’t freely take the steps he needs to manage his mental health.
Our boldness can create new trajectories for lives. It can provide families with the resources, care, and attention to take the steps they need to move forward.
It can create space for us to see the church embrace a new form of loving people well— making it possible for believers to know they are never alone, despite what form the diagnosis comes in.