Mental Health and the Bible
Mental illness takes many forms and plagues many people, across all ages, geographic regions, and religious groups. The World Health Organization (WHO) found in 2017 that “there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the last decade.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that in 2020, 1 in 5 adults in the US experienced a mental illness, while more than 12 million had serious thoughts of suicide.
The concerning prevalence of mental health issues in the US and around the world has led to initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Month in May, which is used to raise awareness of mental illness and to advocate for mental health and access to care. Mental Health Awareness Month has its origins back in 1949, but mental health was a noted concern long before that.
In fact, although the Bible doesn’t specifically speak of mental health or illness in so many words, it does portray mental health struggles and offer encouragement to those battling depression, anxiety, and more. Here’s a look at mental health in the Bible, and how Christians can be supported through emotional struggles.
Mental Health in the Bible
What the Bible tells us about mental health struggles, first and foremost, is that we are not alone. Stories throughout the Bible depict people who are battling mental illness. For example, 1 Kings recounts Elijah’s suicidal thoughts, while Ruth touches on the effects of Naomi’s trauma. By showing the struggles of those who have gone before, the Bible illustrates the commonality of mental illness. Rather than the result of sin, mental illness is something we all can experience—and can overcome.
Scripture encourages us in mental health battles by offering these key supports: prayer, meditation, self-care, and the Word of God.
Prayer is a crucial component of the Christian life, and is also a powerful antidote for anxiety and depression. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When you bring your anxieties to God through prayer, you can experience greater peace. Research has shown that prayer is “positively correlated with a range of mental health outcomes.” It can positively impact recovery from mental illness, and can be especially beneficial for those facing loneliness or social isolation.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Some versions translate that final line as “meditate on these things.”
Meditation has been long established as an effective means of combating mental illness. Mayo Clinic reports that meditation “can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health.”
The act of self-care refers to “doing things to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls by engaging in activities that promote well-being and reduce stress.” It encompasses simple necessities like hydration and nutrition, as well as more leisurely activities like creating art or taking a bubble bath. Jesus modeled spiritual self-care by taking time to withdraw in prayer and encouraging His disciples to do the same.
The Word of God
Finally, we can always turn to the Bible itself for support. It’s full of verses that can help us through mental health struggles like anxiety and depression. Here are a few scriptures for mental health healing.
- Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. - 1 Peter 5:7
- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27
- Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28
- The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18
Here at the Massachusetts Bible Society,we’re dedicated to promoting biblical literacy. Biblical texts have been interpreted in diverse ways from generation to generation and are always filtered through the lens of the reader’s faith and life experiences. The Bible has authority for communities of faith who take time to study and prayerfully interpret its message, but it is also important for anyone who wants more fully to understand culture, religious thought, and the world in which we live. We believe that everyone should know the Bible, whether they accept it as their sacred text or not. To that end, we have created accessible and comprehensive resources for all who are curious.
Check out our Exploring the Bible courses and claim your free sample chapters, or explore our website for more! The Massachusetts Bible Society is a Christian organization that exists to promote biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue that is grounded in scholarship, sociallyrelevant, and respectful of the many voices within the Bible and all those who turn to the Bible in faith. Donate today or consider planned giving to help us bring biblical understanding to the world!