I recently had an enlightening discussion with Paul Gaumer on an episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast about Christians’ mental health, including the stigma faced by those with mental illness. In my own practice, I’ve worked with thousands of patients who endured mental health issues, and unfortunately witnessed some of the greatest shaming come from other Christians. In this post, Paul shares from his experience as a Christian living with Bipolar Disorder.
Be sure to read to the end for a book giveaway!
(If there are affiliate links in this post, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you)).
Thy Rod and Thy Staff; They Comfort Me: A Christian Perspective of Living with Bipolar Disorder
by Paul Gaumer
I must preface this article by stating that I am not a theologian. I’m not an MD or trained mental health professional. I’m just a guy who LOVES the Lord and lives with a mental illness, bipolar disorder (BP). What can go wrong, right?!? With that said, when you think of bipolar disorder, what first comes to mind? Someone that’s crazy? Someone scary? Unpredictable? Unstable? Or E – All of The Above? If you aren’t familiar with the effects of BP, you are not alone. Now, when you think of a Christian that lives with BP, what comes to mind? God will take it all away? Do you need to pray more? You don’t go to church enough? You aren’t around enough like-minded people? Or E – All of The Above?
Mental health stigma is real
The stigma of mental health in the Christian community is real and it isn’t addressed enough. I read a statistic one time that said that 68% of pastors that were polled said that they would not base a sermon around mental health with their congregation because they were afraid that it would open a “Pandora’s Box” and that they wouldn’t have the resources to deal with the potential flood of needs. I get it. As someone who lives with a mental illness, I completely understand the lack of mental health resources in America today but that is another story for a different time.
As a Christian who lives with a mental illness, the need is even greater. A lot of the mental health resources available to me are not like-minded people. Hence, the unwillingness of Christians to come out of the shadows and discuss their struggles. In 2019, God laid a journey on my heart. A journey that would include every intimate detail of my daily walk with Him and the voices of the demons that governed my mind, at times. God asked me to put my life into a book to share with other Christians so that they know they are not alone in their struggles. To show them the Light that was guiding my path and that it’s okay to be a Christian and still not be okay. Now, as I questioned God on why He wanted ME to be His vessel, He reminded me of the faithfulness that Abraham showed to Him over and over again. There was a reason why He chose me and that should be good enough. But as a guy, I’m supposed to be the strength of my family, and putting my vulnerability on paper was a pretty scary proposition. But I stayed faithful and God lead my journey with the compassionate love and direction that only He can provide.
3 things to consider to walk in the light
If I could give you 3 things to consider as you wrestle with staying in the shadows or coming into the Light, it would be this:
1. God is ever faithful
God can feel SO far away at times. God promises so many times in the Bible that He will never leave you. But, when you are in the throws of a mental health crisis, it’s very hard to remember that. I have found that the more time that I spend in the Word during my “normal” times, the easier it is to remember that God is ever-present during rough times. God made you perfect in His eyes. You are His child and He is your Father. And just like any parent/child relationship, there are going to be challenging times along the way. But, as a parent, at no time would I turn my back on my child just because they aren’t present in my life every second. God understands that there are times when you aren’t fully focused on Him but He is there fully focused on you–right beside you waiting for you to come to visit Him. My goal is to visit Him as much as I can during the good times and the bad but if there are days when I just need my time, He reminds me of Psalms 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God… and as the Psalm tells us, He will be exalted in the end.
2. What you are feeling is real
Don’t let anyone dismiss what you are feeling as a “phase”. Don’t let someone tell you that you just need to pray more or that you need to just spend more time with like-minded people and all will be okay. Prayer is critical in my daily life as I maneuver the daily struggles of what is real or not but God also created physicians, Neuropsychologists, like Dr. Bengtson, and really good medications to help you through the trials. This, combined with prayer and God’s protection, is why I am here writing this post today. Without medical intervention along with my daily walk with God, I truly believe that thoughts of self-harm would have been louder than my thoughts of self-preservation. The first step is to talk to someone which leads me to my 3rd and final point.
3. Find your earthly person
Discussing mental health struggles are scary. I get scared a lot when I talk to groups about my book and the fact that my whole life is out there for the world to read. Whether you are suffering from seasonal depression or full-blown bipolar mania, some, if not all, of the symptoms seem irrational to others who are not informed or engaged in understanding mental health. I felt God leading me to discuss my story so that others know that it’s okay to not be okay, even as a Christian. But my path wasn’t always roses and rainbows as I encountered people along the way who felt that if I just had more faith in God, all my troubles would go away. I had to find that one person whom I knew would listen, without judgment, and would still love me in the end. I like to ask a question to the audiences that I speak with; If you were arrested (hopefully wrongly arrested!) and taken to jail, who would you make your one phone call to? Who is that one person that no matter how embarrassed or scared you feel, would come to you unconditionally? They would drop everything to help you. Well, that is your earthly person.
Your earthly person is whom you need to start your discussion with when you are feeling ashamed, scared, or embarrassed about thoughts or feelings that you may be having. They will listen and love you no matter what. Keeping your thoughts and feelings bottled up can be extremely detrimental to your mental and physical well-being. It’s really frightening to take the initial step of telling someone what you are feeling. God placed your person on this earth knowing that this conversation will happen long before either of you was born. You need to trust God that the earthly person that He chose for you is going to help you take your first step out of the shadows and into the Light.
Allowing God’s light to shine in the darkness
As a Christian living with a mental disorder, it wasn’t all that long ago before I thought that I had nowhere to turn but to God. Don’t get me wrong; that’s a really good place to turn but God also lead me to my earthly person, my wife Jeanine. I was initially afraid of any judgment, ridicule, and shame that may be placed on me or my family if I brought my struggles out into the open. But you know what? I have far more loving, understanding, and supporting people in my life than not. Had God not reached out to me to be His vessel to begin breaking down the stigma of mental health in the Christian community, my story would have stayed hidden with my family.
But I quickly learned that putting my faith in the fact that this journey is truly God-led allowed me to let other Christians know that they are not alone in their thoughts and feelings. I broke down my own walls because God gave me the strength to start talking about it and getting the help that I desperately needed. He loves you. He protects you. He guides you. He made you. You are perfect in His eyes. Allow the Light to shine in your darkness, follow the Light into the open, and collectively we can destroy the stigma of mental health in the Christian community.
What are your thoughts about how we can tear down the wall of stigma with respect to Christians and mental health issues? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
About Paul Gaumer
Being a Christian and living with a mental illness is a confusing, frustrating, and emotionally draining daily journey that asks the question, why me Lord? When the demons have a stronghold on your life, God can seem so far away. Paul Gaumer lives with these challenges each day and brings insight into how he continues to focus on God while living with the daily. Struggles of Bipolar Disorder. Paul has written a book, A Walk With the Light in the Shadows, that details his daily journey with the Lord while living with the effects of bipolar disorder.
In conjunction with this post and the podcast interview, Paul is giving away a free copy of his book, A Walk With the Light in the Shadows.
Leave a comment below sharing with us one thing you learned about ending the stigma surrounding mental health in the Christian community and you will be entered into the contest for your chance to win a copy of her book.
You could also share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter then comment here to tell us where you shared it and you’ll also be entered into the drawing.
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday, July 3, 2023. Continental United States only.