When it comes to mental health issues, Christian responses are all over the board. That’s why I’ve been reading Christian books on depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. I want to hear a wide range of thoughts, but more importantly, I want to know which books to recommend on the topic.
Out of my recent batch of a dozen books on the topic, I found five books worthy of a 5-star rating and worth reading if you have an interest in mental health from a Christian perspective.
Michael S. Beates
Mental illness falls under a larger umbrella of physical illness and disability. Our theology for one ought to be the same for the other.
I was absolutely delighted with the way Michael Beates went through the Bible discussing every instance of disability. It was astounding to read how many times God says he CAUSES disability for his own purposes (not punishment). See for yourself in passages like Exodus 4:11-12, Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 45:5-7, Micah 4:6 (which says God causes emotional woundedness), and many more.
Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace offers the best theological treatment of disability I’ve ever read. I carefully looked up and wrote out each of the Bible references in a journal to meditate on them. This is a tremendous resource.
Amy Simpson explains the differences between fear, anxiety, and worry. She writes, “In general, fear is a response to an immediate and known threat. Anxiety is a response to a possibility.” She goes on to say, “[Worry is] a choice we make to stay in that place of anxiety.”
Some of her statements can feel like a punch to the gut: “We must let go of the mistaken belief that life can and should be safe” and “When we worry about the future, we usually imagine a world where God is nearly or completely absent.” The truth hurts.
Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry includes plenty of support from Scripture. I used it as a Bible study guide, looking up the verses and marking them in my Bible. Most people would benefit from reading this book.
Mark Sutton and Dr. Bruce Hennigan
Mark Sutton and Dr. Bruce Hennigan combined their experiences to create a resource with daily readings for conquering depression. Sutton writes from the perspective of one who suffers with depression and Hennigan writes from a medical perspective. The result offers realistic appraisals of life with depression combined with hope for the future with medically sound practices that can help.
The 30 daily readings have a segement from each of the authors.
I liked the daily “Life Filters” which are affirmations to repeat that help focus our thinking on God’s power to work in our situation or give us strength to make it through. Along with the Life Filters, there is a daily promise from God. These are helpful tools to begin filtering out negative thinking and seeing the world through the lens of what God can do.
Hope Again: A 30-Day Plan for Conquering Depression presents a very positive approach. For instance, the authors repeatedly urge the reader to see depression as a positive experience: “Growth is painful, but if you allow depression to push you forward into a healthier lifestyle, then depression can be viewed in a positive way.”
Jason R. McNaughten
Jason McNaughten begins with a very reassuring concept: “Being depressed is not a sin, nor is it always the result of a sin.” Not all Christians understand this and for those of us who are depressed, this is an important point of grace.
Throughout the book, McNaughten gets personal with his own struggles: “If I were Superman, depression would be my kryptonite.”
The author provides examples of people in the Bible who experienced depression, how to use the Bible as a source of comfort during depression, how to use the Bible to attack depressive thoughts, and he offers tips for surviving depression. He also encouraged people to find the blessings of depression and to understand “Depression is never in vain.” Finally, he offered suggestions for what churches need to do.
Confessions of a Depressed Christian: How a Pastor Survived Depression & How You Can Too is light reading, which is important for someone experiencing depression. It can easily be read in short sittings.
Kathryn Greene-McCreight has bipolar disorder and wrestles with the theology of mental illness in the pages of this book. While it is a bit heavy on theology, it is also reassuring to watch someone else wrestle with what the Bible really says about depression and how to apply it to her life: “I learned to remind myself of my belief that life is a gift. No matter how I felt about my own life, I refused to give in to suicidal thoughts and acts, even though I often ruminated wildly about them.”
While many say mental illness is punishment for sin, she asks the difficult questions like, “How are my sins any different from others’ sins, that I myself would be stuck with this awful disease?” Her examination of these difficult issues are raw and real. She pulls the rug out from a number of false beliefs and offers her best conclusions based on Scripture.
Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness is yet another tool for anyone struggling to reconcile mental illness with God’s Word and God’s ways. I took copious notes while reading her book. I filled half a journal! There’s a lot of good in these pages.