More than ever, keeping abreast of current events can be discouraging. I often talk to folks who say they no longer watch or read the news because they find it so depressing. The prevalence of mental health disorders is one way to gauge how well society is doing in meeting peoples’ needs.  According to recent research, “feelings of anxiety and depression have grown to levels where virtually no one can ignore what is happening.” Raising awareness is critical because this can reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with seeking treatment for emotional distress.

Why is mental health such a significant issue at this time in history?  Studies suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest have caused the prevailing mood to decline in metropolitan U.S. cities.  Suicide rates are an indicator of a population’s mental health status, and shockingly, suicide has risen by about 30% since 2000! Almost a third of U.S. adults now report symptoms of either depression or anxiety, roughly three times as many as in 2019, and one in 25 adults now has a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

In 2020, 21% of U.S. adults (52.9 million) had a mental health condition, but the numbers are even more alarming in other parts of the world. The United States ranks 29th internationally in prevalence of depressive disorders. Worldwide, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of anxiety and depressive disorders grew from 193 million people to 246 million!

Environment is a critical factor in mental health, too, as mental illness often occurs in response to abuse or neglect, witnessing or being a victim of violence, or a lack of consistency or support in childhood. In fact, a majority of the clients in my practice report a history of childhood trauma.  Finally, social media use, isolation, and economic stress are major contributors to psychological disorders.

Do you find the above information disheartening but feel helpless to make a meaningful change? I believe Christians can make a difference, even if they don’t work in the mental health field!

First, we can choose to believe that “God’s power has given us everything we need to lead a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3 NirV). A life that pleases God, leaves a positive mark on the world and fulfills the unique purpose he gave each of us. If it’s true that everything we need is available through our relationship with God, this means that spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional well-being are topics addressed in God’s Word!

My books (Discover Joy, Discover Joy in Your Marriage, and Ten Keys to a Rich & Satisfying Life) are based on the premise that the Bible provides the fundamentals of a satisfying and successful life, and at the same time, positive psychology – understanding the factors that promote optimal functioning – can enrich our grasp of these spiritual teachings.  In other words, without a knowledge of what it takes to be truly “healthy”, it’s easy to overlook or misunderstand Scripture that can help us enjoy the rich and satisfying life that Jesus came to give us (John 10:10 NLT).  My new book, The Mental Health Message of Matthew is a devotional book designed to help Christians and seekers understand how Jesus taught these principles of healthy living – and then put them into practice!

Next, we can arm ourselves with Bible verses that have enlightened, inspired, encouraged, or comforted us, along with specific examples of personal struggles and how these passages have been helpful.  Here’s a personal example:  In my pride I can struggle with being critical (which comes from thinking my way is superior!) The verse that helps me is Romans 14:13: “Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” When I share this, I’m often met with a combination of surprise (that being critical is a sin!) and agreement (that they struggle with the same thing.) If possible, I also try to share how having this insight has improved my sense of confidence or peace, since my goal is that this person will feel they can relate to me.

Finally, when encouraging non-Christians to come to church or study the Bible, we can emphasize that we’ve discovered a timeless of source of well-being – the Bible – and offer an example from the Scriptures! We might say, for example, that Philippians 4 is the Bible’s “stress management chapter” because it gives practical advice for reducing our anxiety. People who think their lives are “just fine” are often open to sources of wellness that tap into their desire to feel better. We can help them realize that knowing God and the Bible will help them find exactly what they need!