Being Christian and Living With a Mental Illness

By Steve Austin

With the new year approaching, we wanted to spend the month of December looking back on the top 8 blogs of 2017. This post was originally published on May 25, 2017.

This piece contains mentions of suicide and descriptions of suicidal thoughts. We ask that you use your discretion.

I was twelve when my Aunt Missy killed herself. She was the only person I knew with a mental illness, though no one ever called it that. I had never attended a funeral of a suicide victim before hers, and I had never been told a brain could be ill. I’d been raised in the evangelical church and laziness was the first lie I believed. The second was that I couldn’t be a Christian and still have a mental illness.

Sixteen years later, I finally understood what Christianity and mental illness looked like. It was mid-September 2012, and I had been a youth pastor for a decade. I came home one weekend from an out-of-town interpreting assignment carrying a sick feeling in the deepest part of my gut. I felt hopeless. I remember wishing I could wake up from the horrid nightmare of anxiety and depression, while already being convinced things would never get better.

I left home that Sunday night knowing it would be the last time I would see my wife and baby boy. His first birthday was the following weekend, but I wouldn’t be there to celebrate. In the moment, I wasn’t sure if I was completely insane or absolutely desperate, but I was fully aware of the failure that would forever mark my life, and I chose to die anyway.

Preparing to die is surreal. I’m not sure how to even describe it. Imagine something fantastically terrible. In some ways I felt like a marionette, watching my hands scribe the darkest letters imaginable. I knew the choices I was making. I comprehended the secret plans I was devising. Yet it felt like my hands worked independent of my mind.

I knew my death would hurt my family and friends. They’d be shocked and even miserable for a while. But life does go on. I told myself they would be OK without me.

After three days in ICU, when the doctors decided my liver wasn’t going to fail and I had regained feeling in my legs, I was released and immediately transferred to the psych ward.

The psych ward. Me. The former worship leader. The youth pastor. The Christian radio host. The blogger. The ministry school graduate. The father. The husband. The outgoing one. The friendly one. The upbeat one. Me. I was sitting in a wheelchair, headed to the psych ward. And I stayed there for several days.

That’s when my healing began.

If I had died four years ago, I would’ve missed so many things. I would have missed a whole and healthy marriage. I would have missed my wife becoming my very best friend. I would have missed the relationship I have built with my little boy: his laughter, curiosity, and fierce love for his daddy. And my little girl would have never been given the chance to make our family complete.

Over the past four years, the power of vulnerability, courage, and grace has made my life better. But that hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Transformation has come from connecting with other people through our brokenness, not in spite of it. Being willing to own my story and giving other people permission to own theirs is saving my life every day.

I’m a pastor, and I once attempted suicide because my brain has an illness that is no different from heart disease or cancer. I require medication to function as normally as possible, and I have to visit a specialist to keep track of my progress.

I’m writing about this because the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in Christian communities, keeps people locked in prisons of shame, refusing to admit that they need help.

If you’re struggling and feel alone, please know that you can still be a Christian and have a mental illness. I am living proof of that.

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Comments (50)

  1. Sierra

    Wow! Thank you for being vulnerable and honest; I know how difficult that can be. I am also a Christian that frequently struggles with depression. It is a nightmare that everyone pushes aside because Christians are not supposed to feel like that or travel into those dark places. I am also training to be a therapist. People usually respond by either saying things like, “Yeah, that’s definitely needed” or “Hmm, interesting choice. You’re so smart, you could have chosen anything and you decide to do that. Are you sure?” Either way, they generally avoid my gaze and my company. They do not want to hear my story; they ask me to sugar coat it. I’m never good enough for them, and I’m having to learn to accept that. It’s okay to not be okay. I am not a failure because I figuratively walked to the edge of the cliff. I am human, as are we all. We all struggle, but our struggles are different. Someday I hope we live in a world where Christian is not synonymous with “perfect”, where depression does not equal laziness, and where suicidal ideation does not mean failure.

    Thank you for your bravery in speaking out. It gives me courage to stand firm in the truth and not in shame.

    Reply  |  
    1. Kat

      Sierra. You are going to be a great therapist because you can relate to what your future clients will feel and experience. I appreciate the reminder that “it’s okay to not be okay”. . . & your sentence which begins with the word “someday” is very encouraging. Thank you!

      Reply  |  
  2. Kaylee

    Thank you so much for this. I’m pretty sure I have depression and am a self-harmer. I’m scared of people outside of church finding out but the thought of the people w/in the church finding out is terrifying. It’s like I look like a bright, happy girl and I’m a Christian but I still have those issues and I get worried about what other Christians will think when they find out. This reminds me it’s okay to be the way I am and still be a Christian. So again, thx so much for this.

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    1. Sarah

      Kaylee, I know exactly what you mean. It’s good to know that you’re not alone, when you find stories like this online, but in person, it’s hard to not feel like you will stick out, and be rejected, *especially* by the church–the risk feels so great.

      Reply  |  
  3. London O.

    Thank you for sharing this. So moving to see God use your story to reach other broken people.

    Reply  |  
  4. Priscilla Wwber

    Thanks for your article! Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we don’t struggle. Our brains can be sick just like everybody else’s

    Reply  |  
  5. Cindy

    I’ve had religious people tell me that depression is a “spiritual illness” and to “pray more.” Yet, they would never say the same to a diabetic. They would tell a diabetic to take their medications. Anyone who doesn’t understand by now that clinical depression (and other “mental illnesses”) are brain diseases is seriously uninformed. See your doctor; take your meds, and don’t listen to those who would blame you for your disease. There should be no shame for this.

    Reply  |  
    1. Mike

      Well I’m a diabetic and mentally ill. Definitely major depression disorder, probably borderline personality disorder (i certainly meet all the symptoms). My diabetes has become extremely difficult to manage. I feel like crap every day. I dropped $1400 on personal training and still have horrible fatigue issues. I am 42 back living at home with a mother who seems to care less about eating right to control her own diabetes, and a twin brother who has never moved out of the house. Neither of my parents seem to accept that I am seriously ill, and are constantly faulting me for not being able to hold down a job. I have pushed myself so hard to turn my life around in the past year, yet I keep failing. I go to church, i go to bible studies, I pray. I still can’t get out of this hole. I hate my life and what I have become, and things just seem to get worse each day. I had so many dreams to do good things and make a difference in this world, and they have all been shattered by my poor health my entire life. I getting to the point where I just want God to take me to a better place, and seriously I’m doubting whether that’s even a reality anymore.

      Reply  |  
  6. Beverly york

    Thank you SO SO much for sharing your story. I too am a Christian and struggle with mental illness too. I feel freer now, and able to talk about it. God bless you!!!

    Reply  |  
  7. Brady

    Great article! So true

    Reply  |  
  8. Taeleyn

    Thank you for writing about this. I grew up in a conservative evangelical denomination, the child of a pastor. I have suffered from depression and anxiety since before I had the vocabulary to express what I was feeling. My parents prayed for me, laid hands on me, quoted the Bible to me, and finally took me to a “therapist.” She was a Christian social worker who had no business doling out mental health advice. Her words to me were “Everyone has problems, you need to get over it.” When it became obvious that I needed more help than a that whack job could offer, they finally took me to a psychiatrist, but instead of letting him commit me to the psychiatric hospital for treatment, they sent me to work at a Christian summer camp and I never saw that doctor again. The messages I got from church were that mental illness was the work of the devil and was shameful to speak of, and that my brain was only worth as much treatment as the (church-provided) medical insurance would cover. So shameful was the idea of getting mental health help that I was told to lie about it to anyone who asked where I went when my parents pulled me out of school to go to appointments! Imagine that! Being told that it was better to purposely commit the sin of lying than to admit that I had an illness that was no one’s fault!

    Reply  |  
    1. Taeleyn

      As an aside: I have since left that denomination and currently consider myself an agnostic. Many reasons play into this, including the above as well as the church’s behavior toward the LGBTQ+ community.

      Reply  |  
  9. Kat

    Pastor Steve. Thank you for being courageous & for sharing your story. Thank you for shining light on the lies. I can relate to so much of what you’ve written in this post.

    Reply  |  
  10. Devin

    I am a Christian who has schizophrenia. This blog means a lot. Especially since he talked about all the things he is, a pastor…a father, and his accomplishments. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Living with a mental illness, it is hard not to lose faith when you believe in a God who is love. All people deal with pain, some more than others. But no one is exempt. Having to deal with the stigma of a diagnosis and thinking it can derail your faith when you believe in the gospels of a savior who went around healing and delivering people. I have asked myself what gives? Is this my lot in life? Who did this? How did it happen? How can I be created with this “malfunction”? How can i go on believing? One verse that gives me hope is that God’s grace is sufficient, for his strength is perfected in weakness. I can be weak and still believe. The perseverance I have had shames people that have it all figured out and don’t believe in a God who loves the broken in the midst of problems with no cure, just management. A God that is for and even with those that suffer in silence mental illness. So, I am breaking my silence on this blog today. No one has to be ashamed of how they are or what they have gone through. There is still enough love and hope in one another to keep one another alive and living a life worth living full of meaning. Our pain brings significance to ones that unfortunately one day may have to deal with a diagnosis they don’t understand. I am glad I get the opportunity to help someone in sharing their pain and their carrying their burden so no one has to feel alone in their struggle with mental illness.

    Reply  |  
  11. johnny

    Same here, i have been batteling mental illness for some time, im in my latter 50’s and it came all @ once, the meds work wonders and i am greatful, keep keepin on my friend, it gets better, i tried and thought of suicide over the years and finnally ended up in a ward also, it gets better, god will use those meds and eventually you will be healed, just eat the right foods and keep reading your bible, im with you all they way.. great story. thanks…. johnny

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  12. Glenda Kelly

    Praise God for saving you so you could be a voice for those who feel voiceless. I too am a Christian with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. I take medication to keep me alive.

    Reply  |  
  13. Jane

    Thank you Pastor, I am a Christian and I have a mental illness. Sometimes I feel so hurt by the things my Pastor says while preaching. I feel like there’s no place for me. You’ve blessed me with your story thank you.

    Reply  |  
  14. Amy

    I really needed to read this. I attempted suicide a week and a half ago, and im being told over and over that God will fix me if only i trust in Him. I feel like it completely dismisses my faith, that i just need to pray better or trust better or whatever and then everything will be fixed. Its almost like im not a good enough christian … otherwise i wouldnt be mentally unwell. Thankyou for this post.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Amy,

      We are so grateful that you are still here. We hope that those around you have found ways to understand and offer you support. The thoughts and struggles you are facing when it comes to your mental health very often need and deserve professional help. Please know that this does not make you weak or a bad person, whatsoever. You are absolutely good enough. And you absolutely deserve the proper support.

      Would you email our team at We would like to learn more about your story and offer you some encouragement.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
    2. stephen porter

      you are not alone… i too struggle with mental illness and am a Christian… i have also attempted suicide although it was 30 years ago…

      i hope that you are getting professional help…

      i have several tools that i use to help me in my episodes of mental illness… friends, the Bible, prayer, my dog, i love lucy, food and a notebook i made with several pictures from magazines that are of happy smiling people, puppies and other encouraging pictures…

      know that you are not alone…

      Reply  |  
  15. Beverly

    I have suffered from depression since the age of 13; now, I’m almost 62. To be honest I have the strong impression that evangelical Christians don’t even believe in mental illness. Not all, of course, but the vast majority I’ve known. I find the evangelical environment hostile to people like me. I’ve been told how unacceptable I am to their god, lazy, and assaulted by many other cruel comments over decades of attempting to fit in..
    I’m now an agnostic and happier. I have found science and those enlighted by it to be much kinder than the average Christian.
    I’m writing about my experience in my memoir. If religion has the right to have a voice, so do I!
    I commend your courage in relating your suffering and brokenness. I hope someone will listen, but I’m skeptical!!

    Reply  |  
  16. Kaitlyn

    I just want to thank you so much for sharing. I have experienced almost the same kinds of things in my life. The preparation part was spot on. I have been a Christian my whole life, and I was never taught that feeling hopeless was expectable. My family are extremely rooted in our faith, and because of that, most of the people I’ve been going to church with for years knew the things I was going through for years. God has allowed me to be able to share my story and break the stigma not just in church but as school as well. Thank you again for your story.

    Reply  |  
  17. Tara

    Thanks for this. my 30 yr old cousin shot and killed himself last night. Ive alway’s had depression and anxiety and i still sat here wondering how this sweet, loved, young guy could think that life was so bad that he did this. Thanks.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Tara,

      We’re so, so sorry to hear about your cousin, and we’re sorry to hear that you’ve dealt with depression and anxiety.

      If you need someone to talk to, we list helplines here:

      If you’re in the US, you can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to get connected with a crisis counselor for free 24/7.

      We’re here for you, Tara. If you ever need some encouragement, you can email our team at

      Reply  |  
  18. Lynn

    Weakness is not sin. Tough when people confuse the two. My husband has clinical depression and anxiety, been suicidal. It is something we have dealt with our whole marriage, 20 years this Spring. But this is not a sin

    Reply  |  
  19. Jo Ellen Layne

    I enjoyed your blog. My name is Jo Ellen Layne, and I am the author of the novel, Dr. Darla, published by Koehler Books. It portrays a Christian psychiatrist who treats her patients using psychotherapy, psychotropic medications, and Christian principles. My background is that of a social worker at a VA state-operated mental health faciklity facility for 37 years. I am seeking your endorsement for Dr. Darla. If you will send me your e-mail address, I will be happy to forward you a copy of the book. Thank you for your consideration.
    Jo Ellen Layne

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Jo!

      We can’t guarantee any collaborations, but you are welcome to email us at Thanks!

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  20. Adina

    Thank you for this post. I, too, am a Christian suffering from mental illness. The bad thing is, I was not raised in the church. I found God on my own. In college, a mentor of mine referred to me taking medication as being addicted to drugs. Another person told me I can pray for God to take it away. It isn’t weakness to take medication and have faith.

    Reply  |  
  21. Josh

    Thanks for this, brother! I’ve been on and off antidepressants 3 times in the last 6 years. I work shift work and am attempting to raise 8 kiddos (5 biological, 3 adopted…2 of which have attachment issues and 1 of those has MAJOR issues) with my wife. Needless to say, I don’t get much sleep. In fact, as I type this, I’m running on 2 hrs of sleep in the last 36 hrs. I’ve never questioned my salvation until the anxiety started back in 2011 shortly after we adopted the 3. I started trying to please God with works because I thought the Lord was punishing me with anxiety. I put “Jesus” stickers on everything I owned hoping He would see my good deeds and take the anxiety away. Didn’t work. So depression came on. I’ve been in a cycle of good days and bad days ever since. I honestly don’t even know if I’m saved at this point. I have questioned EVERYTHING about my life and nothing makes any sense. I don’t understand God’s purpose in allowing me to suffer while trying to lead my kids to Christ. I struggle to pray sincerely with them now. Is God even real? I sin just to escape my misery at times. Just to get my mind off of my condition for a few mins. I’m lost and I plainly see it. How can a Christian be lost?? Very few people understand this. Even fewer Christians understand. I don’t understand. I’ve spent plenty of time contemplating suicide. Being scared of those thoughts. Welcoming those thoughts. Life is completely, COMPLETELY overwhelming. I can’t manage myself much less 8 kids and a spouse. Anyway, sorry for spilling my guts. I get you, dude. I understand. I know how it feels. All of it.

    Reply  |  
  22. Marcy

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have struggled for years with mental illness and came to know Christ a little over 2 years ago now. I had this crazy misunderstanding that since I was a Christian, God can cure my mental illness and I was going to get better. I just needed to believe that, and if I didn’t get better…shame on me because it was because I wasn’t trusting God. Well since I had yet another suicide attempt in November of 2016…completely fell away from God and got involved in an extramarital affair that nearly destroyed my marriage. It’s been rough to say the least. I’ve encountered so much confusion and differing opinions when it comes to Christianity and mental illness. Such questions that have come up include “Is mental illness really even a thing? Or is it demonic influence or a spiritual attack?” and the controversy about meds! My pastor at my church counseled me after my last suicide attempt. He “strongly discouraged” meds or “secular therapies”. This led me to distrust my doctors and therapists…thinking that they couldn’t really help me. I will say now that I am in professional counseling and am on multiple medications everyday to keep me stable. Things are looking up but I still have a ways to go. This is what I now believe…#1 Mental illness is like any other illness that needs to be treated and taken seriously…It’s not because you don’t have enough faith in God. #2 Meds are made to help!! God gifted scientists and doctors with the knowledge to enable them to make medicine. Meds help and no one should be ashamed of taking them. Period. Thanks again for sharing your story. God bless you!

    Reply  |  
  23. stephen porter

    i am a Christian and have had mental illness all my life… currently i am on three medications for mental illness and am seeing a professional…

    mental illness is NOT a sin… it is just like heart diesase, cancer or any one of a thousand illnesses… the church needs to recognize us and mental illness as REAL!!!

    mental illness has caused so much pain in my life… right now i am going through a week long struggle with mental illness and it is a nightmare… i feel judged, looked down upon and pitied… i want none of that… it only makes things worse…

    if you cannot support those of us with mental illness, then leave us alone!

    Reply  |  
  24. ashlee

    Thank you so much for this. I always hear in church that reading the bible and just digging deeper into your relationship with God will defeat your sadness and give you a new sense of joy which is true, but I still just feel numb. I try to dig into my relationship more but my depression keeps me from being able to have the strength to get up and do anything let alone read. This has always been my biggest struggle trying to convince myself that im not depressed I just am not putting enough effort into my faith, but this helps me realize im not crazy

    Reply  |  
  25. Mary Kay Evans

    I struggle with bipolar type 2 and am a Christian. I have been in denial about my diagnosis but am now facing the reality. Thank you for this article.

    Reply  |  
  26. Jean Uhrich

    Thank you. You’re brave and courageous! You have helped so many people by posting your travels with mental illness. I am only now (at age 70) able to look those detractors in the eye and patiently explain what I know to be the truth about medicating mental illness. And if they don’t believe me, it’s their loss.

    Reply  |  
  27. Kim

    Your story is similar to mine, I too am grateful I did not end my life, and the people I met on my healing journey will be my friends forever. Jesus carried me and took the reins when I wanted to just fall off the planet. Thank you for your story

    Reply  |  
  28. Brad S

    I absolutely love this: “Transformation has come from connecting with other people through our brokenness, not in spite of it. Being willing to own my story and giving other people permission to own theirs is saving my life every day.”

    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply  |  
  29. Laurie griffin

    I’m glad you opened up about your illness. I’m glad you didn’t take your life. I’m struggling with depression and anxiety. I lost a career and jobs and my health. I lost my life savings and was in lots of debt.

    Reply  |  
  30. M

    Thank you for being so vulnerable and honest. I am a Christian living with mental illness for a long time . Unfortunately my church does not accept mental illness. Everyone seems to live in a perfect bubble without any problems. If I had literally any other problem they would rush to my side. Anyway I’m only remaining where I am until my mother goes to heaven if I can wait that long. I’m single, unsupported and exhausted. Please pray for strength and direction.

    Reply  |  
  31. Ali

    I luv u ~ Ali

    Reply  |  
  32. Chris

    I have struggled with depression since age 12. I was pretty innocent and naive as most 12 year olds in the late 80’s should be. At the time I was referred to a youth pastor who gave me verses to read to help. There was no follow up. I prayed daily and clung to those verses. I remained sad from August 1988 until Jan 1989. I was more depressed than happy growing up. I felt I had no where for help. I think it led to me turning away from the church and involved me turning to a bad marriage ending in divorce. I returned to Christianity in my mid 30’s.

    I remarried with a Christian woman for my second marriage. We recently left a church because depression is a,” Sin Problem,” of each individual.

    It makes me angry that depression is minimized to this. God is almighty, all creating and all knowing. Would it be possible to give an affliction that is real to cling to him more? My identity doesn’t lie in being sad. It is in him. My faith and hope is in Christ.

    It saddens and angers me that depression is minimized because there are no blood tests to show that it is a real manifestation of organ distinction. MRI’s show brain changes. PET scans show brain changes. My message to those that read this is, get help in medicine, help from the church, help in counseling. It is a multifaceted issue that is much much more complex than once thought.

    Reply  |  
  33. Thomas

    How could I get in touch with this pastor who wrote this story.

    Reply  |  
  34. Sarah

    Thank you for your post. I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder about 14 years ago. I’m a Christian and it’s been hard to make sense of mental illness and faith. I felt like I was out of God’s will for my life bc of my mental illness and almost attempted suicide. It’s been a struggle, but I know God is good. Thank you for validating that it’s possible to be Christian and have a mental illness.

    Reply  |  
  35. Melissa

    I believe sharing your story is a blessing to many. I have been married 5.1/2 years and separated currently for my children’s and I safety. My Husband’s has bipolar type 11 and dependent personality and control issues. It is so hard. With a 35 year old pornography addiction( my husband claims he has had healing with the addiction) I believe there has been but I believe there is much more. It is hard bc in see his pain but unfortunately the healing hasn’t came yet. I am so thankful to hear about your healing and again I believe sharing your story will be so encouraging to many others. I don’t believe our pain is ever wasted. God bless you and your family.

    Reply  |  
  36. Jacqueline Kim Murray


    Reply  |  

    I appreciate this message. Mental illness runs in my family and I’ve been in several Churches trying to find peace and refuge. Church folks just don’t understand. I can’t do what they think I can do, because I suffer so severely from depression and a great deal of anxiety. I go to church seeking peace and come out feeling worst.
    Do you have a word for me.

    Reply  |  
  38. Crystal Biddix

    I’m struggling to find my spiritual self within the walls built by mental illness and medication. I KNOW I have a true illness and must take the medication but constantly fight the guilt and shame in my church when I am unable to feel and worship as the others do. I don’t know who to reach out to.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Crystal,

      We’re so sorry that you are facing this struggle between your mental health and spirituality. We believe that you should never feel shame or guilt for something like mental illness, and we hope that you will reach out to us at if you are in need of some support and encouragement. You are not alone in this, please know that.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  39. Marsha Meyers

    Although I have never considered suicide, I have thought about how better off my family might be if I weren’t here. I too suffer from depression and anxiety and even with medication have bouts with them.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We’re sorry that you’ve experienced these types of thoughts, but we are so glad you’re still here. And we imagine your family is as well. You are needed. You are loved. Please remember that.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  40. Diane Harsanyi

    Thank Jesus for you.
    I’ve been a Christian in the evangelical church for 37 years and I’ve been diagnosed at 19 with a mental illness. I am now 54 years old and trying to be accepted by everyone, and rebuild my life after trauma and divorce and mental illness. I always loved and adored Jesus through all of this and know scripture like the back of my hand. would you pray for me?

    Reply  |  
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