The Bible does not speak explicitly on the subject of mental health; however, it has much to say about the heart and mind, spiritual brokenness, and the condition of the soul. Mental health is important as it affects the whole being: “Above all else, guard your heart, because everything you do comes from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
The world is in a fallen state (Genesis 3). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59: 2), corrupting creation as it groans for freedom from its state of decay (Romans 8: 21-22). The fall of humanity has had physical ramifications for the body and spiritual effects on the soul. Mental health is no more guaranteed than physical health, and like the body, the mind can become ill or injured.
The Bible has many passages that speak indirectly of mental health. The Lord is the One who renews the mind (Romans 12: 2) and restores the soul (Psalm 23: 3). God has given his children “a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1: 7, ESV). We have the promise of peace from Jesus (John 14:27) and rest (Matthew 11:28). And, of course, there are many biblical commands to “fear not” and bring our anxieties to God (Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4: 6; 1 Peter 5: 7).
Mental health is linked to the health of both the body and the spirit. We have a biblical example in Elijah, whose mental health suffered during his conflict with Queen Jezebel. Elijah fled the country to a place only where he wanted to die (1 Kings 19: 4). God took care of Elijah’s physical needs first, feeding him and giving him time to sleep (verses 5-6). God knew that his journey was “too much” for him in his current state (verse 7). After Elijah rested and was physically recharged, God gave him encouragement, a new purpose, and a helper (verses 15-18).
Jonah is an example of someone whose mental health was tied to poor decisions he made. Jonah desired death after God forgave Nineveh (Jonah 4: 3), a desire quite indicative of a depressed state. What led to that was Jonah’s rebellion against God. He had directly disobeyed the Lord’s command (Jonah 1: 1-3), but, even after God realigned him, his heart was out of step with God’s desires. Instead of marveling at God’s mercy and praising him for his grace, Jonah wanted to die. Re-aligning himself with God was the only way Jonah’s depression could end.
In some cases, external spiritual forces have a direct effect on mental health. King Saul suffered distress as a result of an evil spirit that tormented him (1 Samuel 16:14). He only found relief when David played the lyre for him and “the spirit of God came upon Saul” (verse 23). Another example of demon-related mental illness is the Gerasene man who lived naked among the graves and constantly screamed and cut himself (Mark 5: 1–5). After Jesus cast the demons out of him, the man was “in his right mind” (verse 15). The spiritual battle was won and the mental health of man was restored.
The Bible gives some guidelines for achieving and maintaining good mental health. We have a description of the healthy thinking life in Philippians 4: 8. We have Jesus’ example of taking breaks from the busyness of life to focus on spiritual matters (Luke 5:16), and he called his disciples to do the same ( Mark 6:31). We have Paul’s recognition that physical exercise is beneficial (1 Timothy 4: 8). Personal care, both physical and spiritual, is a must.
God is close to the broken in heart and saves the broken in spirit (Psalm 34:18). He works all things for the good of his children (Romans 8:28). The test of faith produces patience and maturity (James 1: 2-4). The struggles for mental health, while difficult, are not without meaning. The Bible clearly shows how God can and does use them for His glory.