Ginny Kochis counters arguments that anxiety and depression are caused by a lack of faith.
There is a sentiment in Christian circles that I encounter fairly often. Today, I feel like addressing it head-on.
If you have anxiety, depression, or any other sort of mental illness, it is not because you are not faithful enough.
It’s not because you don’t pray enough.
It’s not because you don’t receive the Sacraments as frequently as you should or you don’t read the Scriptures or you aren’t willing to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.
It is because your brain is wired that way, and it takes both faith and reason to navigate the storm.
Now I know that I’ve probably raised a few eyebrows here, so let me clarify before I go on. Each and every one of us, regardless of brain wiring, genetics, and circumstances, always has room to grow in the faith. We can all stand to pray more. We can all benefit from receiving the Sacraments more frequently and fostering more perfect devotion. We definitely could all benefit from reading the Scriptures more often -- just look how many people have made their way through Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz. And no, I don’t believe there’s a person on this earth who couldn’t work a little harder to embrace personal suffering for his redemption.
However, to name these opportunities for spiritual growth as the cause of mental illness is to deny one of the most fundamental aspects of Catholicism -- the complementarity of faith and reason:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth- in a word, to know himself- so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. (St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)
Take moral OCD, for example. This is a condition wherein an individual faces recurring intrusive thoughts that she is unworthy of God’s love and His salvation. Telling this person to “Just pray more!” or “Go to Adoration!” has the potential to cause a tailspin. Chances are, this individual has already been doing these things habitually, perhaps to the degree where other aspects of life (food, shelter, work, sleep) are neglected.
Our approach to mental illness, then, requires that we address it as one would a two-sided coin.
First, we trust in God’s healing powers as the divine physician; we believe that God will support us as we work through these struggles; we know that God has created us in His image as a unique and unrepeatable work of His hands.
Second, we seek medical and therapeutic treatment as needed because God works through mental health and medical professionals. We look for and receive the appropriate treatment not because we are a failure when it comes to the first component of healing, but because both components work in concert to support the individual as a whole.
We would never expect a type 1 diabetic to pray away his diabetes. Why, then, do we expect the same of those with atypical brain chemistry? Ultimately, we’ll better serve both God and each other when we embrace the role both faith and reason have in the treatment of mental illness.
If you or someone you love is struggling, go pray a decade of the Rosary and call a therapist. Today.
Copyright 2021 Ginny Kochis
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