Mental Illness and the Church

Les Parrott is a psychologist, ordained minister and New York Times bestselling co-author of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. He, along with his wife, Leslie, are founders of the SYMBIS Assessment ( for pre-marriage and marriage ministry. 


Mental health—our emotional, psychological and social well-being—affects how we think, feel and act. And in the case of pastors, how we minister. Our mental health does nothing less than preside over every stage of our life, determining our mood, our stress level and ultimately our relationships. 


Christian leaders need to be apprised of mental health matters. Why? For starters, 8% of average church attendees experience episodes of major depression. Almost 20% suffer from an anxiety disorder. One in 4 American adults has a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. And if that’s not enough, like everyone else, pastors are susceptible to mental health issues, including burnout, depression, narcissism and anxiety. 


Everyone in Christian leadership can benefit from having resources on mental health on hand. Here are a few titles you should have in your library.


Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Health (Baylor University Press). If you’re looking for an historical overview of how the church has managed (and mismanaged) mental health matters, Heather Vacek’s book is a good place to start. She not only gives historical narrative for the Christian understanding of mental illness, she also provides theological reflection on caring for those who suffer from it. 


Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders and Other Common Mental Health Conditions (Zondervan). Stephen Grcevich proposes a model for mental health outreach that is applicable to churches of all sizes and styles. The model is based on recognizing seven barriers to church attendance and assimilation resulting from mental illness: stigma, anxiety, self-control, differences in social communication and sensory processing, social isolation and past experiences of church. 


The Struggle Is Real: How to Care for Mental and Relational Health Needs in the Church (Westbow Press). This book from the American Association of Christian Counselors brings together a lineup of experienced mental health specialists to address everything from assessing mental health needs in your church, to developing a suffering-sensitive ministry, to empowering lay counselors. 


The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Emotional Tranquility and Wholeness (Thomas Nelson). For a dive into clinical methods for managing panic attacks and anxiety, read this classic by Archibald Hart. It may not be the most up-to-date, but it still provides an easy-to-understand perspective on medications as well as other proven treatment methods.  


Happiness Is a Choice: New Ways to Enhance Joy and Meaning in Your Life (Baker Books). In this updated edition of their 1978 title, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier draw from their professional training and counseling experience, as well as biblical knowledge, to spell out the basic steps for treating and recovering from mild or acute, temporary or persistent, depression. 



101 Ways to Be Less Stressed: Simple Self-Care Strategies to Boost Your Mind, Mood and Mental Health by Caroline Leaf (Baker) presents simple approaches to mental self-care.


The Anxiety Reset: A Life-Changing Approach to Overcoming Fear, Stress, Worry, Panic Attacks, OCD and More by Gregory Jantz (Tyndale) provides a plan for overcoming crippling fears.


Beauty in the Browns: Walking With Christ in the Darkness of Depression by Paul Asay (Tyndale) offers hope and help to those suffering from mental illness as well as those trying to help them. 


Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress and Toxic Thinking by Caroline Leaf (Baker) gives a five-step plan to find and eliminate the root of anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts.


Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled With Depression and Doubt by Diana Gruver (IVP) looks into church history and finds depression in the lives of such well-known Christians as Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.


Depression, Anxiety and Other Things We Don’t Want to Talk About by Ryan Casey Waller (Thomas Nelson) combines practical theology, clinical insights and personal stories on dealing with mental illness.


Encouragement for the Depressed by Charles Spurgeon (Crossway) urges those struggling with depression to cast their burdens upon the Lord.


Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians With Mental Health Challenges by John Swinton (Eerdmans) is a call for the church to be an epicenter of compassion for those experiencing depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and related difficulties.


I Love Jesus, but I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression by Sarah Robinson (WaterBrook) pairs the author’s story with scriptural insights and mental health research.


Out of the Cave: Stepping Into the Light When Depression Darkens What You See by Chris Hodges (Thomas Nelson) uses the life of Elijah to explore depression, its causes and the hope we have in Christ. 


Reignite: Fresh Focus for an Enduring Faith by Jack Graham (Bethany House) shares lessons the author learned during his depression and biblical insights on how to keep your relationship with God from growing cold during such times.


Searching for Grace: A Weary Leader, a Wise Mentor and Seven Healing Conversations for a Parched Soul by Scotty Smith and Russ Masterson (Tyndale) explores why embracing God’s grace unreservedly is so difficult for those who feel anxious and unfulfilled. 


When Anxiety Strikes: Help and Hope for Managing Your Storm by Jason Hobbs and Dena Hobbs (Kregel) is an eight-week guide grounded in both Scripture and research into managing anxiety.