It’s no secret that the Bible contains stories of all kinds. But what about the stories we don’t often hear about? The ones that make us feel uncomfortable or even scared?
This week, we will explore mental illness in the Bible. We’ll be looking at some of the most famous stories in the Bible and see how they might relate to mental health. We’ll also be talking about how we can support those who are living with a mental illness.
Are you ready to take a closer look at some of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible? Let’s get started.
Introduction to Mental Illness in the Bible
The Bible is full of stories of characters with mental illnesses. Some are well-known, like King David and his battles with depression and paranoia. Others are less famous, like the woman who was demon-possessed for many years.
Mental illness is nothing new, and the Bible is a great place to see that it’s been around since the beginning of time. What’s interesting about these stories is the way they’re portrayed. Often, characters with mental illnesses are still considered heroes or prophets.
What does this say about mental illness? The Bible may be trying to tell us that mental illness is not a curse or a sign of weakness. Instead, it can be a part of someone’s journey and story.
Saul and His Mental Illness in 1 Samuel
Saul, the first king of Israel, is a perfect example of someone with a mental illness that is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. But his story is laced with symptoms common to mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
For example, Saul experiences intense mood swings. In one moment, he’s euphoric, and in the next, he’s suicidal. He also has auditory and visual hallucinations, believing God is speaking to him directly. And while he can perform some of his duties as king, he often makes bad decisions due to his mental state.
It’s important to remember that Saul’s story is just one example of mental illness in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t explicitly mention mental illness, but it talks about people who exhibited signs common to mental illnesses.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s Mental Illness in Daniel 4
The story of King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel is one of the most well-known accounts of mental illness in the Bible. The king suffered a mental breakdown after he boasted about his greatness and was thrown out of the city by God. He lived in the fields like an animal, eating grass and living in his filth.
When he finally recovered his sanity, he recognized the Lord’s power and praised Him. This story is an essential reminder that mental illness is not a curse or a sign of weakness. It can happen to anyone, regardless of stature or position.
Elijah: The Prophet Who Suffered From Depression
Have you heard of Elijah? He was a prophet in the Bible who experienced a deep depression. Elijah felt God had abandoned him, leading to deep despair. He ran into the wilderness and begged God to take his life. In 1 Kings 19:5-7, we read, “He lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once, an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
In this passage, we can see how Elijah’s mental illness caused him to become physically exhausted from his inner turmoil. But we also see how God comforted Elijah in his suffering. We love that this story reminds us that we all have moments when things feel out of our control—but God has not abandoned us in these times of darkness.
The Troubled Samaritan Woman’s Mental Illness in John 4
In John 4, we meet the Samaritan woman at the well. She tells Jesus her story of being with five men and how she’s now living in sin. She’s been through a lot of relationships and heartbreak. On top of this, Jesus reveals to her “you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18).
What often goes unrecognized is that this woman appears to be suffering from some mental illness. Her story reflects symptoms common in individuals who struggle with PTSD or borderline personality disorder—experiences of confusion, abandonment issues, difficulty forming and sustaining healthy relationships, and impulsive behaviors like promiscuity. Whether these symptoms have been caused by society or by a combination of other influences—such as trauma or abuse—is unknown.
Regardless, it is comforting to know that even this troubled Samaritan woman was met with compassion and understanding from Jesus. By listening to her story without judgment and offering her hope for redemption regardless of her past, Jesus showed us how to show love to those suffering from mental illness.
The Demon-Possessed Man at Gadara: Mental Illness in Mark 5
The Gospel of Mark is one of the earliest Christian texts, and it includes several stories about Jesus healing people with various ailments. One of these stories is about a man possessed by demons and living in the city of Gadara. The man is described as having no power and unable to control the demons.
The man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus casts the demons out of him. The man is then able to live a normal life. This story shows that mental illness was seen as something that Jesus could cure.
The story of the demon-possessed man is just one example of how mental illness was seen in the Bible. Sometimes mental illness is not physical or psychological but spiritual and needs a spiritual cure to become healed.
Healing From Mental Illness Through the Bible
One powerful way to find healing from mental illness is by exploring stories of it in the Bible. There are multiple examples of mental illness in the Bible, and each story can teach us more about how to cope with and heal from our struggles.
For example, Christ’s healing of the madman of Gedara is a reminder that even those with serious mental issues can find healing. In this story, Jesus heals a man out of control—screaming, cutting himself with stones, and living among tombs. Through this act of mercy, Jesus reveals that no matter how long we’ve been dealing with a mental illness or how severe it may be—there is always hope for healing.
Other stories like Jonah and Job offer insights into how recognizing our inner pain can help us begin to heal from our current loneliness or depression. Through their tales, we gain an understanding of our struggles, new insights into working through them and ultimately hope for ourselves.
So, while we might not know all the details about the specific cases of mental illness mentioned in the Bible, we can still learn a lot from them. They show that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and that those who suffer from it can still be loved and supported by their communities. They also remind us that God is with us even in our darkest moments and can help us overcome any challenge we face.