Surprising Things the Bible Says About Mental Illness

Contributing Writer
Surprising Things the Bible Says About Mental Illness

She twisted the tissue in her hands and muttered the words, “He told me wants to jump off a bridge so I told my counselor. They’re in the emergency room now.”

Close to 10 to 15 percent of teens struggle with symptoms of depression while one in five adults grapple with significant mental illness. But the girl with the red-rimmed eyes and tattered tissue was not a statistic or number. She was a 12-year-old girl afraid for her brother, and I wondered, with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental health a significant issue in the lives of both children and adults, what does the Bible say about mental illness?

What Does the Bible Say About Mental Illness?

The Bible does not speak directly to mental illness apart from Deuteronomy 28:28 which reads, “The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart.” Here, God was warning the Israelites about rebelling and worshipping the Canaanite gods. Mental illness would be one of the results of rebellion.

This sobering verse was played out in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar. “‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow’” (Daniel 4: 31-32 NIV).

While we know mental illness can be the direct result of God humbling a people group or an individual, it can also simply be the result of living this side of heaven. Just as a person’s body can be physically ill, an individual’s chemical composition can be unbalanced.

Mental illness can also result from poor decisions as it did with Jonah. One of God’s prophets, Jonah disobeyed God and endured a terrible storm only to be swallowed by a great fish where he remained for three days. Finally, the fish spat Jonah onto dry land and the prophet proceeded to fulfill his God-given assignment. By this point, Jonah was depressed. If he had obeyed immediately, Jonah would not have suffered such horrific circumstances.

Finally, mental illness can develop following trauma. Naomi, for instance, grieved the death of her husband and both of her sons. Now destitute and in a foreign land, she returned home with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Life and depression had so impacted Naomi that the townspeople did not even recognize her (Ruth 1).

Stories of Mental Illness in the Bible

Since the fall of man, people have struggled with mental illness. The Bible is full of examples of those who exhibited symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other types of mental illness. Besides those mentioned above, others include:

Elijah: Queen Jezebel declared a bounty on Elijah for having killed the prophets of Baal. Fearful, Elijah fled and cried out to God, “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). Elijah remained in this distraught condition for 40 days and nights—depressed and unable to meet his basic personal needs.

David: The man after God’s own heart dealt with being treated as the least of his father’s sons, was threatened by the king to whom he’d been loyal, and then betrayed by his own son. David recorded many songs of lament that reflect his pain and depression including Psalm 6:6-7 (NIV), “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”

Martha: Overwhelmed by the demands as hostess, Martha grew angry toward her sister who perched at the feet of Christ instead of helping to prepare a meal for the guests. Frustrated, Martha finally approached Jesus. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me.” The Lord answered her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things, when only one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:40-42 NCB).

Can You Be a Christian and Seek a Counselor?

God created the entirety of man—body, soul, spirit, and mind. Each of those parts is designed to operate and function as a whole. None of us balks at the idea of providing our bodies with nourishment, rest, or exercise. Or, if we get sick, we do not refuse medical care.

We should give the same regard to the care of our spirit, soul, and mind. While they are not physical, each impacts our physical well-being as well as our relationships with God, family, and friends. Seeking a counselor when our mental health is tenuous is like providing the nourishment, rest, and exercise we need to a part of us that needs support.

Seeking a Bible-believing counselor who asks hard questions such as, “What does the Bible say about mental illness?” is something for which one should be congratulated. The enemy will try to convince you there is no hope or that seeing a counselor is pointless, but I can tell you from personal experience that those are untruths.

Christians are not superhuman. We are believers because we recognize our own fallibility and, in situations concerning mental illness, those of us who struggle merely need the support of a licensed professional for a period of time.

When you are looking for a counselor, I recommend you interview a few candidates and have a few questions prepared in advance. With whom do you feel most comfortable? Do you prefer working with a male or female? Would you like your counselor to open and close in prayer?

Encouragement for Those Suffering from Mental Illness

The Bible may not say much about mental illness directly, but there are many Bible verses that provide comfort for those struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, and more.

Psalms of Lament (Individual) include Psalm 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV): Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-29 (NIV): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

1 Peter 5:10 (NIV): And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Psalm 34:17-18 (ESV): When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Isaiah 40:31 (ESV): But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV): For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV): Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

You can find other verses here.

What does the Bible say about mental illness? The Bible tells us that our God is big enough to overcome whatever we are facing. It may not be easy, but He will be with us. Whether we are a 12-year-old child or 72--year-old adult, God is our strength in every situation. As Eva Marie Everson writes, “We must pray for the courage to look deep in our own heart and soul—pray for the strength to begin a journey that quite possibly may change our own life—and pray for the wisdom to make new choices in our own life.”

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/demaerre

Tammy KenningtonTammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.