Don't Live Disembodied

May is mental health awareness month.

As someone who went through a period of depression over 10 years ago, I can appreciate when mental health issues get attention. I think that attention is especially important for believers, as depression is often misunderstood even overlooked in Christian circles. In my case, upon learning that I’d been diagnosed with depression, a believing family member was shocked because, “I knew so much about the bible.” However, a quick read through the Psalms or Lamentations will show that God’s people do struggle with depression. Check out this website for more on that.

Still, the amount of attention mental health receives concerns me especially if that attention causes us to think of ourselves as disembodied. The reality is that prioritizing mental health can make us forget its connection to physical health.

Overemphasizing mental health pushes a view of humans as disparate, disconnected parts. This is problematic. By separating essential aspects of our humanity and pretending they don’t interact, we inevitably elevate one while the other suffers.

Detaching mental health from physical health or vice versa is unnatural. It's attempting to live disembodied.

God didn't create us to function this way, so living in a state of disembodiment is unsustainable. The reality is that both mental and physical health are equally integral aspects of who we are as God’s embodied image-bearers. They operate together. Generally, when one suffers, the other follows because of the psychosomatic, mind/body connection God intended, which this previous post covers. So, it should come as no surprise that separating mental from physical health or ignoring one while emphasizing the other will inevitably bear consequences.

Let me explain 4 ways the culture pushes you to live disembodied.

Gender transition efforts (1) and the body positivity movement (2) are pushed to protect mental health while neglecting physical health.

Yet, covid restrictions (3) and abortion rights (4) are pushed to protect physical health while neglecting mental health.

These contradictory messages errantly dichotomize, disembody, and elevate one integral aspect of humanity over the other.

Mental health over physical health

(1) For those who identify as transgender, experts say transition. No matter what. And the sooner the better. Thwart upcoming puberty. Take hormones to counteract the ones that naturally occur in your body. Damage your bones, and increase your chance of blood clots, stroke, and certain cancers. But don’t stop there. Also, mutilate your sex organs because it will undoubtedly make you feel better. Don’t worry whether or not you’ll ever be able to have children. What matters is how you feel. You see, gender transition purports to guard the mind by butchering the body. Understand what’s being communicated here. Mental health is paramount. Physical health is inconsequential.

(2) Or take the body positivity movement, which I wrote more about here. Its message is to love your body regardless of your size or shape. While I’m all for pursuing a God-honoring body image, the body positivity movement, like gender transition, pits mental health against physical health. Elevating one and neglecting the other. Forget the correlation between chronic disease and excess weight because the physical effects of extra pounds are trivial. The important thing is how you feel. But only mentally of course. Nevermind the osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure that frequently result from long term obesity.

Physical health over mental health

(3) Now, contrast the mental health prioritization over physical health with what we endured during covid. The complete opposite happened with the pandemic response. There was an incessant and oftentimes nonsensical push to guard our physical health by all means necessary, even to the detriment of our mental health. Let me be clear. I’m not downplaying the significant risks that many face with covid. But we can’t pretend that wholesale adoption of covid restrictions all to shield physical health did not threaten or impact mental health. The increase in anxiety and depression during the first 9 months of covid was dramatic, particularly among those 18-29 years old, with one study finding a 65% and 61% rise, respectively. And it has only continued. Clearly, we aren’t meant to be disembodied and compartmentalized.

(4) You can even extend this argument to abortion. Pro-choice advocates call it healthcare and proudly shout their abortion. We’re supposed to believe that mothers are perfectly fine to undergo an operation to remove and murder her unborn child or even consent to infanticide. The mom’s healthcare (her physical health) is preeminent so she kills her baby because - my body, my choice. Nevermind the mental anguish and regret that plague so many mothers who choose abortion. But the thing is that women, who were created to bear and sustain life, should naturally expect painful memories and difficult emotions from carrying a child they chose to abort. The body knows what happened and will remember. Still, as the argument goes, the mother’s physical health (forget the embodied image-bearer’s health in the womb) is far more important than any lasting effects on her mental health.

Summing things up, gender transition and body positivity promote mental health to the detriment of physical health. Covid restrictions and abortion endorse the importance of physical health despite the repercussions on mental health. This congruent reality - that emphasizing one aspect of our humanity results in severe consequences for the other - should convince us of the importance of embodiment and goodness of God. Recognize your embodiment by giving both mental and physical health adequate attention, and praise God for his wisdom in creating this connection.

And, as always, we conclude that a biblical worldview - one that glorifies God for the creation of his embodied image-bearers - not only respects the dignity and personhood of every individual, but also reveals the most effective way to care for the whole person whose mental AND physical health are equally important.