Mental Health and Sin

depressedMental health struggles are not sins. 

When I was obsessively checking door handles and washing my hands and counting cracks in the walls and repeating phrases in my head – it was not because I enjoyed doing it. It was exhausting and demeaning and debilitating and painful and I did it because I felt compelled to; because in my head if I didn’t, the people I loved might get hurt. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how.

When I first stopped eating, I had never heard of eating disorders. I was thirteen and I’d never seen a copy of Vogue. But I found that as I lost weight, something in me felt safe and strong and good. Amidst the chaos of life, this was one thing that made sense. And I kept telling myself I’d stop, but something funny happened. When I wanted to, I couldn’t. And the thing that started as my friend, became something much darker.

When I can feel depression coming I try to stave it off with fire and  jigsaws.  Sometimes it grips me, quick, before I catch my breath. I think it’s depression, but the longer it stays, the less sure I become. Instead it’s ‘weakness’ or ‘letting down God and my friends and myself’. I beat myself up by thinking, I should be able to get better but I can’t do it by myself.

These are not simple choices.  And they are not simple sins.

It’s not sin to be overwhelmed with sadness.  It’s not sin to look at myself and despair. It’s not sin to have hungers and to long to be safe.  It’s not sin to be human and weak and to feel.


There can be sin in how I respond to the feelings:

The lies I tell to hide my behaviours.

The self-pity I wrap like a cloak round my heart.

The insistence that there’s no suffering but mine.

The belief that I can make it all right.

The refusal to rest and receive.

Struggles are not sin.   But they can become the occasion for it. Hardship can harden me; or it can open me up. Suffering can make me selfish; or give me softness and strength.

Pain is not permission to live as if there’s only me. It’s an invitation to the grace that’s bigger than my brokenness.




11 thoughts on “Mental Health and Sin

  1. Can something that is ordinarily sinful become not sinful once it becomes an addiction. E.g. with pornography, many people who are addicted to it feel compelled to look at it, hate what they are doing even while they are doing it, and long to be freed from it.

  2. Great question. I think we want to put our behaviours into one bracket or another, when sometimes they’re both. So I want to say, either I’m sick – or I’m sinful. But both are true. I make choices that are sinful and wrong; but I’m also trapped and powerless. I do the things I don’t want to do – and yet, I also want them. This is why I need Christ; and this is why I need the cross: in myself, I can’t even choose to do good, let alone do it.

    ‘For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’

    Rom 7:21-25

  3. Thank you for sharing and your honesty. It’s encouraging to know others feel the same. Good point about it’s how you respond to things that can be sinful as opposed to some of the feelings. God bless

  4. Honestly, if I could, I would set you free, Emma. Completely.
    What you call sin, is no sin in my eyes. Of course, basically, a lie is a sin. But God knows our very hearts. And you are not the one who ‘lies’ in order to deceive others, but you probably want to protect them. You do not want that your family continually worries about you, do you?
    Also, ‘the refusal to rest’ might be part of a depression. It’s not your fault at all. Rest is something God gives; we cannot calm ourselves when our thoughts are running like a hamster wheel. Furthermore, self-pity is absolutely normal and OK. If we deeply suffer, we cannot help but look at our own pain.
    I would not tell it to everybody, but to you I would love to say, “Forget about sin along the way.”
    Depression is no sin and mental or other disorders are no sins. Satan knows it. Nonetheless, he is the accuser who demands the impossible from a sick person, and says such silly stuff as,
    “You’re a failure who lets God, your family, and your friends down. And look, you do not even care for yourself.”
    Do you sometimes somehow ‘feel’ Satan laughing at your helplessness and weakness, Emma? I felt it, yet I needed quite some time to realise that he was the guilty one who did me down all the time.
    As opposed to this, God loves you so much (as you are right now!!!!!!!) and I am sure that He wants to heal you too. The only thing I could suggest because it helped me in the past would be the following.
    I know how frightening it feels when you get overwhelmed by a new wave of deep sadness and apathy. Also, certain compulsive acts are not foreign to me either. You might wonder, but the healing began with embracing the darkness as a ‘friend’, accepting my misdemeanour, and even bad behaviour. I could do it because Jesus NEVER condemned me because of anything I did during those times. HE understands everything and HE will give you ALL that you need.

    Be blessed, my dear sister! xx


  5. Thanks Susanne.

    I agree – my depression is not a sin – any more than say, breaking a leg – and it can even point me back to the Lord. But I can respond to having my leg in plaster in a way that is sinful too. You’re right that the enemy works through the lies we tell ourselves; and self-condemnation can be a big part of this. But whilst there is no condemnation in Christ; there is conviction of sin through the Spirit – and in every area of my life (including my mental health), I need to recognise the things I am responsible for; as well as those which are outside my control. But in this, as in everything, I come back to the cross and the grace that is there for all of us, in every situation and whatever we have done.

  6. Excellent stuff – and for those of us who don’t have mental health issues, the last couple of paragraphs are a challenge and encouragement to strive to deal well with whatever difficulties we are encountering. Thanks Emma!

  7. Thanks for this Emma. I can definitely relate to this in my life – my depression itself is not the problem, rather it’s how I respond to it. Whether that’s by running to my friends or turning to self harm, that’s where the sin is. I know I should be running to God but sometimes it’s just so hard.

    Katie xx

  8. Hi Sarina

    Yes, of course. Sorry for not replying earlier – but your comment went into my spam!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *