Shane Idleman on 5 Things You Need to Know About Depression and Mental Illness

Many know all too well the debilitating effects of mental illness. We do a great disservice when we tell those struggling to “just get over it and think positive thoughts” or “read your Bible more.” Although positive thinking (the right kind) is biblical, and it’s crucial to meditate on God’s Word, one cannot simply turn depression, anxiety, and hopelessness on and off like a light switch. But on the flip side, there are factors that contribute to mental anguish. After many years of praying with, talking to, and counseling thousands of people, I’ve found five factors that stand out that may cause mental pain. (Watch the short video here outlining these same points.) 

1. Chemical imbalances and other physical factors can cause mental illness. Medication has a place, such as when neurotransmitters and hormone levels need assistance. In the same way that diabetes needs to be treated with insulin, some struggling with emotional pain may need medication, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but medication doesn’t always fix the problem. Often, it complicates it. Before jumping immediately on the medication bandwagon, consider the next four points. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but we can look at a combination of things that may be adding to mental anguish.

2. The consequences of besetting sin can cause mental pain. In Psalm 32:3 (NASB), David said, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Ongoing unrepentant sin leads to mental anguish, depression, and anxiety. I’m not discounting deep emotional and psychological pain, but I do want to remind you that God makes provision for all our needs through a relationship with Him and obedience to His Word. Counseling with those skilled in the Word is invaluable and desperately needed, but all the counseling in the world will not work if the heart is not right. As a pastor, it would be highly inappropriate for me to neglect this point. If besetting sin or being out of God’s will isn’t the number one reason for mental pain, then it’s a close second.

Again, I’m not suggesting that those who struggle with mental illness are engaged in sin—I hope that’s not your takeaway—but unrepentant sin does lead to misery. For example, it was eventually revealed that two Christian leaders in my area who committed suicide were also engaged in extramarital affairs. And in the case of unbelievers, much of their depression, shame, and guilt is tied to the fact that they don’t know God. Once repentance and trust in Christ take place, the enormous burden is lifted.

This is why pastors should preach repentance when God leads. People need to be lovingly encouraged but also lovingly confronted from time to time. Repentance is a beautiful word that reestablishes our relationship with God. We need to abort sin as soon as it’s conceived (James 1:14–15). Sin has a life cycle—it either grows or withers, depending on whether we feed or starve it.

If you believe that your depression is being fueled by unrepentant sin, take time now and confess. God can restore and rebuild your life. If you’re not sure where the depression is coming from, then spend time in prayer and reading God’s Word. Ask Him to reveal blind spots that may have developed over time, or if there are other issues causing it. Many years ago, I heard an incredible sermon series from a pastor who struggled for years with depression. One day God showed him that he was too concerned about the size of his church and his reputation. He was also negative and critical. As soon as he repented and got his heart right, the depression lifted. It was an amazing testimony.

3. A toxic diet can affect mental health. No surprise here . . . what’s eating you may have to do with what you’re eating. Most people know that poor food choices affect physical health, but they fail to see the connection with mental health. Unhealthy food is a toxic choice when we factor in growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, drug residue, pathogens, biotoxins, chemicals, and carcinogens that wreak havoc on our bodies. Poor food choices cause a severe lack of vitamins and minerals that actually stabilize our emotions; this lack plays a huge role in mental instability. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders lists caffeine-related disorders such as caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, and caffeine-induced sleep disorder that lead to depression, severe anxiety, and extreme irritability. If we believe that we can drink a high-powered stimulant day in and day out and not have it affect our health, we are gravely mistaken. The same is true with alcohol. It’s a powerful depressant. Both caffeine and alcohol harm physical and emotional health, as well as prevent deep healing sleep.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Shane Idleman