Magazines 2022 Sept - Oct How faith can help with mental illness

How faith can help with mental illness

03 October 2022 By Marja Bergen

Marja Bergen, who lives with bipolar disorder, writes on the mysterious link between faith and mental health that brings healing

October 2–8, 2022 is Mental Illness Awareness Week

What is the mysterious link between faith and mental health that brings healing? What is it about belief in God or a higher power that helps individuals survive their mental and emotional battles? I think it has to be the act of surrendering control of our lives to one greater than ourselves.

Alcoholics Anonymous, though not describing itself as religious, is strongly based on the belief in a higher power, which they colloquially refer to as God. By this they don’t necessarily mean a Christian God, but any higher spiritual being in whom a person can place their faith. In Step 3 of the AA program, a decision is made “to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.”

I don’t have an addiction, but I do have bipolar disorder. I too depend on a higher power – in my case it’s the God of the Christian faith. Through him I find peace and meaning in life.

The lives of those living with mental health issues are strewn with crises, making life hard to bear at times. They can arrive at a breaking point in their struggles, feeling unable to keep going on their own. Some will reach for a bottle or drugs trying to find relief. But others, unable to find rest within themselves go the safer route, looking for relief in the spiritual realm. They have no choice left but to turn to God.

Surrendering to God, I believe, is what forms that mysterious link I talked about above. In their great need, sufferers put God in charge of their life. Along with that comes the desired humility which is an important part of the Christian faith. Relying on one greater than themselves brings relief and hope. They have something to hang onto when they can no longer do life on their own—when they long for rest. They find a measure of healing.

When individuals adopt such a faith, they learn to trust that God will not fail them. It’s a trust that gives them a sense of peace and leads to a feeling of strength. Life is no longer empty.

Personally, I have had, and continue to have, such battles and could not survive if I did not have a faith. I could not have the strength to keep going if I didn’t have God to go to for comfort, security and love.

I haven’t often been hospitalized, but when I have, I’ve seen the same needs in other mental patients. They readily talk about God with each other, and they’re not shy about doing so. It’s a common topic of conversation in the lounge.

One patient who had completed a full series of ECT’s (shock treatments) was disheartened about the lack of improvement in his depression. He was losing hope that there would be relief for his suffering.

One day, he overheard me casually talking with others about church. “Maybe that’s what I need,” was his comment. He, along with so many others do become earnest about going to God for healing.

Where else can a person go when he has tried everything else? What else is there when family and friends lose their patience and reject you? Where can you go when you no longer feel loved? When you feel abandoned? What about the failures?

Believers will be relieved when they remember that God will always be there with his assurance of unconditional love. When those with a deep-rooted belief have failures, their faith will be so steeped in their hearts and minds, that it will be easier to have confidence that things will get better. They know that God will help them get through. No matter how hard life might become, faith can bring the courage and strength they need to keep going.

It is well-known that stress will cause illnesses of all kinds. That’s true for the person who has a tendency for mental health crises as well. Stress can cause depression and anxiety. It can cause emotional breakdown.

Those who have a deep faith can keep this stress at bay. Staying close to God through prayer, may mean that challenges won’t affect them as intensely. They’re trusting in a God who can help them overcome their difficulties. And they know they’re not alone.

Marja Bergen lives with bipolar disorder and has supported many of her peers through her biweekly writings, published at Her website also offers her five books on churches and mental health including The Living Room Story: Pioneering Mental Health Awareness in the Church (2021). She has also published devotional books, and her newest is Justice for All (2022), which recounts the achievements of 12 inspirational Christians such as William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. Bergen lives in British Columbia.

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