Ever since receiving the diagnosis of mild-moderate depression and anxiety halfway through college, I’ve taken notice whenever I see articles about dealing with mental illness in a prayerful, faithful way. And while there are multiple articles about living as a Catholic with a mental illness, I’ve not seen many that discuss prayer when you have a mental illness. That’s what I’m going to talk about today. If there are any other articles that address this topic out there, please comment on this post with them.
Prayer is a necessary part of the Christian life, but it is also a hard part of the Christian life as well. It can be such a struggle to pray at the best of times, let alone when you’re at your worst. From my own experience, I know that prayer can be the last thing on my mind whenever I’m feeling anxious or depressed. I try to bring God into my mind during those difficult times and I fail quite a lot of the time. I am no expert in psychology nor do I know why God gives out the crosses that he does. I also am not sure if prayer can or can’t heal mental illness. I just know that God has given me specific problems and I’ve been trying to bring him into my journey to carry those crosses. These are my strategies for doing just that and I hope they can help you, too.
1. Find someone to talk to.
For years before I was diagnosed, after confessing my sins, priests told me to seek professional help. I did not listen to them because I was too scared. Once I did seek professional help, things did not get better quickly, but they did get better. It struck me afterward that I could have made things a lot easier on myself if I had even reached out to people who were around me instead of waiting to have the opportunity for professional help. I should have reached out to friends or members of my family. I urge you to reach out to someone in any way you can. As terrifying as it is to take those first steps, there are people out there who are ready and willing to help. Here is a list of places that can help (these are US and UK numbers.)
2. Talk to God about what is going on.
Talking about one’s mental illness can be the worst thing one can try to do at times. Nothing is worse than explaining what is going on in your head and no one understanding or not listening. Fortunately God is perfect where people are not and he is always willing and ready to listen. One of my favorite quotes from St. Faustina’s diary is from paragraph 921, when Jesus and St. Faustina are discussing prayer. Jesus asked why she didn’t talk to him about what was going on in her life and she replied that she didn’t think she needed to since he already knew everything. “Yes, I do know,” He said. “But you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for My ears are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me.”
I know I’ve used this quote before, but I think it has a lot to teach us about how Jesus wants us to relate to him in all circumstances, even the bad ones. Our words are dear to him and we don’t need to be afraid to talk to him about anything. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t make it easier to talk to him about a mental illness, especially if it’s lead you to think or do things that God wouldn’t like. It is important to try, though. You can be as simple or as detailed as you like, using one word or a hundred. God will hear you and understand you.
3. Cultivate mental prayer.
For Lent one year, I challenged myself to say a prayer every time I felt anxious, upset, or depressed. It was a tough time and I ended up praying most of the day during that Lent. The idea behind this point is when you feel like you can’t talk to God about what’s going on in your head, then make your head a place of prayer. This can be a struggle. You can pray about what’s going on, what’s making you upset, or about anything. This way, you can bring God into your thoughts and have him lift them up through the words of the prayers.
4. Pray some sort of chaplet or the rosary.
There are many formal, repetitive prayers out there that can help when your mind is not a good place to be. It’s been proven that repeating certain words or phrases can help to ground you when your thoughts are out of control. This point follows the same line of thought behind the idea of mental prayer, to turn our thoughts into prayers. One of my personal favorites is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, though the rosary works well, too.
5. Read the Bible or another theological work.
Another good way to bring God into those mentally difficult times is by reading something. The scriptures are a treasure trove of words that will not only distract you from what’s going on in your head, but that will also help you through it. Other theological works can help, too, such as the aforementioned Diary of Saint Faustina, St. Therese’s The Story of a Soul, or pretty much anything by Fulton Sheen. Reading gets you out of your own head and into someone else’s, which can be such a gift and a much-needed escape. Here is a list of books across all genres that will hopefully help.
God loves you so much and he wants you to let him into your struggles as well as your joys. I know these things won’t work for everyone. Circumstances will vary for everyone but I hope you will find something in this article that will help you, whatever you’re dealing with. You are all in my prayers. God bless.