Mental health problems are a significant and increasingly prominent issue in contemporary society. Every year, one in four people in England experience a mental health problem,1 and sadly such experiences are more common among those of us who are LGBTQ+.2 It’s important for us to think about why this is and how understanding some of the potential causes might help us to work to reduce the occurrence of these experiences, but it’s also important for us as Christian to think about how we view and respond to the reality of mental health problems more generally.
Understanding mental health
Sadly, Christians have often not had a very good understanding of mental health, and this has sometimes led to unhelpful and insensitive responses. It’s worth briefly establishing how we should think about mental health.
It’s easy to think of mental health as something that affects only some people. We think of specific experiences and diagnoses that impact only a small number, even if that impact can be significant for the individual and for those around them. Mental health can easily be viewed as something relevant to other people, but not relevant to ourselves.
We all have mental health, and so it is relevant to all of us.
The reality, however, is that we all have mental health, and so it is relevant to all of us. Just as we all have physical health, and so we can all experience physical health problems, we all have mental health, and so we can all experience mental health problems. And in the same way that physical health problems can vary – being more or less serious, having a greater or lesser impact, and lasting a long or short time – so also, mental health problems can vary in many ways.
Given these realities, it can be helpful to think of mental health not as something that some people with certain struggles have and that others don’t, but as a sliding scale ranging from bad mental health to good mental health. We are all on this scale and can move up and down it at different times and for different reasons.
When understood in this way, mental health problems become a more understandable part of human life, even to those who have not themselves experienced them. Recognising that mental health stands in parallel to physical health can be a first step in learning to respond well to, and to support well, those experiencing mental health problems, whether LGBTQI+ or not.
The gospel and mental health
As Christians, we are uniquely equipped to engage well with mental health and to support each other when we face struggles with our mental health. We’re uniquely equipped because of the gospel – the good news of what God has done for us through his son.
The gospel tells us we should expect difficulties in this life
The gospel is good news, and it’s good news because it is the solution to a problem. That problem is our sin, our rebellion against and rejection of God. We know that humanity’s sin against God has damaged God’s good creation, so that both we and the rest of the creation long for the day when all that has been broken and damaged will be fixed and put to rights (Romans 8:20-23). This damage to God’s good creation leads to natural evil – things we experience that are a result of the brokenness of creation because of humanity’s sin but which are not the direct result our own sin and are not sinful in themselves.
We know that the day when all things are put to rights is coming, but we also know it has not yet come. And therefore, we all experience the brokenness of the world in different ways, and sometimes that will be in our health, including our mental health. Mental health problems in this life are not a surprise to Christians; they are one of the many ways that we will all experience natural evil. They are not the direct result of our sin, and are not sinful in themselves, but are just part of life in a broken creation.
The gospel tells us we can be truly honest
In the gospel, we learn that God loves us because he loves us (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). And because of the gospel, our worth, value and identity are rooted in what God has done for us through his son. They are not rooted in anything we do, in how we are, or our struggles or lack of struggles. This truth gives us the freedom to be totally honest about how we are and what we are experiencing, because we know that none of these things can change God’s love for us, or change our value, our worth or identity. We, as Christians, should be the most able to be honest about how we are. We can admit when we’re not ok.
And as Christians, we are equipped to help those who are not yet followers of Jesus to exhibit the same honesty. We know that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that this is the universal truth that gives every human life value and dignity (James 3:8-10). We know that God loves us all, even before we become followers of Jesus – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), and it was his love for a sin-filled world and sinful people that led God to give his only son (John 3:16). God loves people who aren’t followers of Jesus, and we should do the same. People who aren’t Christians should feel that Christians are the safest people with whom to be honest about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing because they know that whatever they’re going through they will be loved, valued and cared for.
The gospel tells us that we don’t have to walk alone
In the gospel we get a new identity as the children of God, and that means we also have a new community. As children of God, we are brothers and sisters, a new family. And we are a family who are called to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Sometimes this will mean walking alongside others who are suffering, seeking to enter into their experience to share some of the load. Sometimes it will mean we are the ones putting burdens on others. As Christians we needn’t say, ‘I’m sorry to burden you with this.’ Sharing burdens is exactly what we’re meant to do.
As Christians we needn’t say, ‘I’m sorry to burden you with this.’ Sharing burdens is exactly what we’re meant to do.
And this family is meant to be a blessing not just to those inside it, but to all people (Genesis 12:3). We are those who are meant to love and care for our neighbour (Luke 10:27-28), even when they are someone whom we might not naturally feel we want to help (Luke 10:37).
Sometimes we feel ill-equipped to support those facing mental health problems, but one thing we can always do is to be a good friend. It’s true that professional help will often be necessary, but alongside that help, friendship can be a significant help, and maybe even a vital one. We can be those who listen, love and often are just able to be present with someone who is struggling.
The gospel tells us we can always have hope
We can have hope because we know that God loves us, that nothing can separate us from his love, and that, somehow, he works all things, even our darkest moments, for good (Romans 8:28-39). We can have hope because we know that God is always with us (Matthew 28:20) and whether our experiences change or not, he can sustain, empower and comfort us (2 Corinthians 1:5). And we can have hope because we know that there is a day coming when all suffering ends, when all physical and mental health problems will end, and when God himself will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). This truth can sustain us as we await the coming of that day.
We are also equipped to bring hope to those who aren’t yet followers of Jesus. We get to be mediators of God’s love and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and we get to be messengers announcing the truth of God’s love and of the hope that is available to each one of us in the gospel. We can be hope bringers.
A part to play
The mental health situation among LGBTQ+ people is worrying and upsetting. Many of us who are LGBTQ+ will have our own stories to tell and many more us of will know LGBTQ+ people for whom mental health problems have been or continue to be a reality. As Christians, we are uniquely equipped to engage well with mental health, supporting our brothers and sisters in the Church, and supporting friends and people in our local communities.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if LGBTQ+ people who were struggling with their mental health knew that an obvious place to turn for love and support was their Christian friends or their local church?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if LGBTQ+ people who were struggling with their mental health knew that an obvious place to turn for love and support was their Christian friends or their local church? As we acknowledge the reality of LGBTQ+ mental health, there is a part for us to play. Let’s step up and play that part.
More on mental health
- ‘Mental Health Facts and Statistics’, Mind. Accessed 25 February 2021.
- This general point is well established in the research literature, although for a variety of reasons there is less
certainty on more detailed points (such as the prevalence of different conditions or differences among the
distinct experiences within the LGBTQ+ group).
A useful and thorough review of the research on LGBTQ+ mental health in the UK can be found in Nathan Hudson-Sharp and Hilary Metcalf, ‘Inequality Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Groups in the UK: A Review of Evidence’ Accessed 25 February 2021: ‘Evidence continued to show higher rates of mental health problems amongst LGB people, compared with heterosexual people. The evidence was weak on differences between lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Mental health problems included attempted suicide, self-harm, anxiety and depression, but extended to probably psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) and phobias.’ (p.39) ‘Evidence suggested that the incidence of mental health problems was very high for transgender people’ (p.59).
There is evidence that LGBTQ+ young people are at particular risk of poor mental health. See Stephen T. Russell & Jessica N. Fish, ‘Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth’, Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. Accessed 25 February 2021: ‘In summary, clear and consistent evidence indicates that global mental health problems are elevated among LGB youth, and similar results are found for the smaller number of studies that use diagnostic criteria to measure mental health.’ Maureen D. Connolly et al., ‘The Mental Health of Transgender Youth: Advances in Understanding’, Journal of Adolescent Health. Accessed 25 February 2021: ‘Studies since 2011 have shown that transgender youth have higher rates of depression, suicidality and self-harm, and eating disorders when compared with their peers.’