The Chaplain's Notebook


Throughout my 40 years as a Christian, I’ve encountered misconceptions within religious circles regarding mental health and seeking assistance from mental health professionals. These misconceptions can be detrimental to individuals of faith, dissuading them from seeking proper mental health services based on myths perpetuated by religious institutions. So, what are some of these myths?

1. Mental illness is a result of sin or wrongdoing. While sin can impact our psychological well-being, mental illness is not necessarily indicative of moral flaws. Even devout individuals can suffer from debilitating conditions like depression. In biblical narratives, figures like King David and Job grappled with profound despair and anxiety, akin to modern-day depression.

2. Lack of faith or weak spirituality causes mental illness. Statements like “If you just prayed hard enough …” imply spiritual deficiency or lack of faith as the root of mental illness. This myth disregards the multifaceted nature of mental health, which involves biological, psychological, environmental and social factors.

3. Prayer alone can cure mental illness. While prayers offer comfort and support, they are not a substitute for professional help. Scriptures encourage continuous prayer and the acceptance of wise counsel, acknowledging the importance of both spiritual and practical approaches to healing. We are encouraged to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days (Proverbs 19:20).

4. Relying on psychiatric medication or therapy signifies a lack of trust in God. There exists a stigma around mental illness that inhibits individuals from seeking psychiatric care, unlike seeking treatment for physical ailments. This attitude overlooks the biological factors contributing to psychological disorders.

Challenging these myths necessitates open dialogue and an empathetic understanding of both religious beliefs and mental health issues. It’s crucial to foster mental health awareness within religious communities, dispelling stigma and educating mental health practitioners on incorporating spiritual beliefs into therapy when appropriate.

Both mental health care and religious practice can complement each other, alongside peer and social support, offering a comprehensive approach to well-being. Conversations with God and therapists need not be mutually exclusive; God’s renewal of the mind and restoration of the soul can align with the guidance provided by competent therapists, helping individuals reach their fullest potential. The Lord is the One who renews the mind (Romans 12:2) and restores the soul (Psalm 23:3), both through His divine grace and through professional mental health care providers.

As a side note, the LASD places great importance on the holistic approach suggested above to Department personnel wellness. This is evident in the triad of care, where the Psychology Services Bureau, Peer Support Team and Chaplain’s Program work in tandem to provide comprehensive care to our Department personnel.

Lastly, cast all your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).