Church Video

A Theology of Mental Health

Love and Suffering:

Generally, when we use the term “Mental Health” we’re not referring to health at all, but to “illness” and “Mental Ill Health”. 800 years ago Francis met with, embraced and helped lepers. Today those rejected, or who feel less accepted, by society include men, women and children who suffer with schizophrenia, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder, Asperger syndrome, Borderline personality disorder, OCD and eating disorders. If we turn to the DSM5 the list of mental struggles some people experience on a daily basis or try to hide from others seems endless.

In the above video Rev Will van der Hart, a director of the Mind and Soul Foundation and Pastoral Chaplain at the Anglican Church of Holy Trinity Brompton, challenges us to consider what a good Theology of Mental Health looks like.  He says:

There is much superstition and a great deal of misunderstanding of mental ill health, not only in society as a whole, but as Will van de Hart points out within The Church too. Instead of offering love and God’s embrace:

Depression is considered to be a decision – perhaps even a life choice.
Anxiety is a sin.
Psychosis is demonic.
Hearing voices is possession.
Remaining positive is a virtue which those with mental ill health don’t have.
All mental ill health can be resolved through prayer.

Some Christians denominations seem to sign up to the above list.  Instead of looking at the individual with the eyes of Jesus some churches believe the cure is “Deliverance Ministry” which is not only essential to cast out demons but needed to remove the evil binds of “soul ties”.  This style of ministry has an extremely heavy focus on sin and wrong-doing in the life of a person suffering with mental illness. It places blame and accuses those with mental difficulties for their own problems, it amplifies their struggles to cope with life and to stay alive. In most situations the Catholic Church has a focus on “healing” and “Healing Ministry”, on loving and embracing those who hurt – rather than assuming mental illness can only be demonic or possession and that “soul-ties” from past relationships or sexual encounters bind evilness to the soul of a mentally disturbed person. Healing Ministry remembers we’re all created in the image of God and its focus is on His embrace and love. A Theology of Mental Health must focus more on “healing” and less on “deliverance” – the starting point with mental ill health – is ill health – not possession by evil spirits.

Those who struggle need a prescription of sensitivity and synergy that combines faith and psychology, that includes all aspects of our humanity – the biological, social, psychological and the spiritual self.

As this video agrees a true Biblical Theology of Mental Health is something which acknowledges that today’s society, our fast paced life, our inward focus on the self, homelessness, low wages, poor living conditions, exclusion and our value defined by possessions are all inextricably linked to poor mental health conditions.

We need to support and be with those in mental pain not to blame them, nor their parents’ DNA, for their condition. It is wrong to jump to conclusions and blame anyone for being possessed by evil.   We need to sit with and carefully help them know that God’s Holy Spirit dwells within. We need to gently encourage them to seek good help, to see their GP, a counsellor or therapist and to find help in a way that integrates their whole created-ness – their mind, body and soul. As Van de Hart explains “people with mental ill health are not problems, but adopted children of God” waiting to feel His embrace and to become wrapped in the arms of The Crucified One, to be loved, to feel loved.

We should follow the example of St Francis. In his early life, before conversion he embraced all the social privilege of his family’s status, he both shunned and despised the socially unacceptable people of his time, the lepers and the poor. But after discovering God and following the example of Jesus he would reflect mercy to those he’d previously thought to be the least in society.

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world. Testament, 1:1–3

We can help by remembering that Our Lord Jesus was both a victorious Christ and a suffering Christ. We need to see with His eyes and understanding the suffering of others. We must be a church that does not segregate love and suffering, but one that loves through suffering. This is the example we must follow individually as we walk in the footprints of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We need to be less of who we are, less of our own self importance and more Christ-like to help those around us. When we look at someone who suffers with mental health problems, our eyes should see their goodness, their afraid-goodness, their scared-goodness, their Created-ness, and their potential as a Child of God.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.
Matthew: 11. 28

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
2 Corinthians 12:9


Catholic Websites of Help:

The Catholic Mental Health Project in the UK


Elizabeth is a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. She has had an interest in Franciscan Spirituality for over 20 years.