Mental health: what Christian faith can offer

Like every aspect of our lives, our minds suffer the ill-effects of living in a fallen, broken world.

All of us experience challenges to our mental health; nearly one in two of us will suffer a diagnosable mental health disorder at some stage in our lives. Increasingly, our society is recognising these concerns and talking about them, as professionals learn more about the nature of these struggles and how to treat them. 

Even with such advances, I believe Christian faith offers something unique. Most mental health professionals acknowledge the complex factors that impinge upon our wellbeing. They affirm that we are bio-psycho-social beings: influenced by our biological and genetic makeup, our past experiences and patterns of thinking, and our networks of relationships. Yet they also recognise a spiritual dimension to life, one where questions of meaning and purpose influence us for good or ill. 

New research shows that some of the attitudes and behaviours I would characterise as the Christian walk actually do us good. For example, gratitude positively shapes neural pathways. Being warm-hearted towards others — showing kindness and forgiveness — builds our resilience. 

“Faith in Jesus Christ draws us into a bigger story with significant implications for our self-understanding and destiny. We are gifted with an identity as God’s beloved children, with nothing to prove and a sense of worth that doesn’t depend upon how well we perform.

— Rev. Dr Keith Condie

In particular, I believe that two aspects of Christian faith and experience offer enormous potential for benefitting people’s lives. Firstly, faith in Jesus Christ draws us into a bigger story with significant implications for our self-understanding and destiny. We are gifted with an identity as God’s beloved children, with nothing to prove and a sense of worth that doesn’t depend upon how well we perform. Yet this God who made all things and is restoring all things through Christ invites us to work with him in fulfilling his great plans and purposes! Scripture reminds us that our future rests secure in his faithful hands. These truths are psychologically freeing. We can find joy, even on bad days, when these truths are woven deeply into our hearts. 

Secondly, faith in Christ also draws us into a community — the church. Relating face-to-face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness, and the relationships found in our churches can enrich and fulfil our lives. We make a real difference when we take seriously Jesus’ words that we are family (Mark 3:31-35), when we welcome and love each other, including those struggling with their mental health.

In our new mental health short courses, we’ve explored these ideas and more. We’ve helped participants to understand the mental health landscape and the theological principles that undergird a Christian perspective. My hope and prayer is that those who are in pastoral ministry, as well as those who are members of a local church, will catch a vision of the difference they can make so that church communities become places of light and love for all.

This resource was first published in Anglican Deaconess Ministries’ 2019 Annual Report. It is republished here with permission.

Rev. Dr. Keith Condie is Co-Director/Founder with his wife Sarah of the Mental Health & Pastoral Care Institute at Anglican Deaconess Ministries. He has degrees in psychology, theology and history, and for his PhD, he looked at meditation in the thought of a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter. Keith has worked in child welfare for the state government as well as serving as an Assistant Minister in two churches in Sydney. For nearly 20 years, he was on the faculty at Moore Theological College as Dean of Students and lecturer in ministry and church history. Keith enjoys reading, keeping fit, cooking and the ritual of Thursday night family dinners, while escaping occasionally to the coast to walk along isolated beaches.

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