Mental illness is not a spiritual failing

by Ben Mast guest writer


Moody’s Counseling Services website states, “Counseling Services are available to all full-time enrolled Chicago and Spokane undergraduate students, as well as Seminary students.”

Sadly, this is not actually the case. Over a month ago, I threw my reluctance to the wind and requested counseling, seeking healing in my life regarding OCD and what it entails. Many tears were shed and many prayers were had before I was willing to admit that I needed help.

I took this leap of faith, only to be met with a message stating in part, “We do currently have a back log of students from the fall semester so it may be some time before you are able to obtain an appointment.”

This needs to change. More resources need to be directed towards Counseling Services so that those who need help can find it. The issue, however, goes far deeper than just this surface-level lack of resources. Within Moody, as well as the conservative evangelical community at large, it is undeniable that there is a negative stigma associated with counseling.

In today’s church, mental illness is often treated as less than real, labeled instead as a “spiritual problem.” While there certainly is a spiritual aspect to mental illness, labeling it solely so undermines real, concrete, valid health issues; sometimes the solutions are clinical as well as spiritual.

The familiar story comes to mind of a drowning man who cried out to God, asking to be saved. After a few minutes, a boat came by and threw him a rope, but the man chose to decline their help, saying, “I’m waiting for God to save me.” A while later another boat came by and offered to rescue him, but again, the man declined, saying, “I’m waiting for God to save me.” Finally, the
man drowned.

In the same way, the church in America at large has placed such an emphasis on waiting for God to snap his fingers and save us from mental illnesses that we ignore the means he has provided to do so. Prayer is an incredibly powerful thing, so turning to it and then blinding ourselves to the ways God has answered it is utter folly. We pray for healing, but when God provides avenues to pursue that healing — from counseling to medication — we avoid them, citing their “unspiritualness.” As a result of this thinking, there is a definite hesitancy on the part of those with mental illnesses to seek the help they so desperately need. How tragic it is then that those who finally do step out in faith are met with a waitlist.

That being said, I want to take a break from the bemoaning and applaud those at Moody who are seeking to bring healing to the broken. The utmost thanks I can give goes to those who have brought about the existence of the counseling major, as well as those who are working on plans for the future Chapman Center. This emphasis placed on training counselors makes it all the more surprising that those seeking counseling are being overlooked.

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