Prominent Pastor Perry Noble of South Carolina confesses his mental health struggles. - Image Courtesy of NewSpring Church

Prominent Pastor Perry Noble of South Carolina confesses his mental health struggles. – Image Courtesy of NewSpring Church

In a blog published this week titled, “Should Christians take Medication for Mental Illness?,” mega-church pastor Perry Noble said Christians struggling with anxiety or depression should consider taking mood-altering drugs to help them cope. He admitted that he used to believe mental illness could be treated with prayer and scripture, but Perry said he has “done a complete 180 in regards to how I used to feel about them.” The leader of NewSpring Church in South Carolina credits the transformation to a period in his life that began in 2008, which he called “darkest time of my entire life.” For the next three years, Noble said he wrestled with depression and even contemplated suicide. He also shares these stories in his new book, “Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry,” due out April 1.

Here I talk to Pastor Noble about his struggle with suicidal thoughts, antidepressants, and what advice he gives Christians who have mental health issues.

RNS: You’ve now shared with the world that you’ve been depressed and considering suicide. Can you share more about your journey to that place?

PN: I was on my way home from work one day and had this thought: “I wish someone would run that red light, hit my car and kill me instantly.” Soon, my thought about someone else taking my life led to me thinking thoughts–infrequent at first, becoming more frequent as time went on–about taking my own life. I remember sitting on the back porch of my house when I reached a breaking point and actually saying, “I am going to do this.”

That thought still freaks me out. I was so close.

Cover image courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

Cover image courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

RNS: The use of antidepressants has increased 400% in the last 20 years. Should this concern us? What about Christians who say “Rather than medicate, we should learn to rely on God more?”

PN: I believe in the power of prayer. I believe God can heal people. I have seen Jesus heal people in miraculous ways. But I also believe in the miracle of modern medicine and am very thankful for it. The brain is an organ in the body, just like the heart or lungs or the liver. If there was a pill I could take to make my heart, lungs, or liver more healthy but refused to, people would call me irresponsible. Why not apply that same logic to the brain?

RNS: Pastors often say they feel they have to avoid admitting their flaws to maintain credibility. What allowed you to admit you needed help with your battle against anxiety and depression?

PN: I used to have this mentality very early on in my ministry, and was actually told by an older pastor once that people in the church “need a hero, and that hero needs to be the pastor.”  He went on to tell me that the pastor needs to be someone who has it all together or no one would want to come and talk to him about their problems. Several years into my ministry, I discovered that what I had been told was so far from reality. People do need a hero, they do need someone to look up to and admire, and that person is Jesus.

There are zero examples of people in Scripture who had it all together. Every Biblical hero we have had some sort of issue they dealt with, and the strength of their stories is not that they were perfect, but that God loved them through their imperfections. That God used them not because they were super human, but because He uses broken things for His glory and our good. As I began pastoring I discovered that people relate so much better with my weaknesses and struggles than they do the illustrations where I am always the hero. And, to be very honest, I feel what pastors are saying in regards to “losing credibility with their people” is actually a masked way of saying, “I am way more worried about my reputation than actually helping people who are hurting.”

For too long the perception in the church has been perfection, in other words, you have to be perfect if you want to come here. Jesus did not teach or model this.

RNS: Some of the heroes of the faith like Moses, Daniel, and Elijah were deeply flawed. Yet, in many churches we lionize these individuals and romanticize their memories. Is this a problem?

So many people want the Bible to be a safe book, one with pictures that make us feel happy or even inspired. Reality is if the Bible were made into a full length movie it would be rated NC-17…and so many Christians can’t handle that reality because they have always viewed the Scriptures as a G-rated children’s book. God does not expect the church to protect the reputation of the people in the Bible.  He put the stories there to show us that even godly people still struggled with sin, worry, stress, anxiety and even fear. It’s essential we embrace these realities because, if we do not, we will view the Bible as full of people who lived lives that are beyond reach for us “mere commoners,” thus causing us to become discouraged, label the Christian life as an impossibility and walk away.

RNS: Somebody reading this is drowning in a sea of despair or depression or stress or anxiety and don’t know how to get out. What’s your message to them?

PN: You have to tell someone. You cannot handle this alone. Jesus did not mean for us to walk through this alone. The lie we believe in our minds is that no one will understand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Healing begins when you ask for help, and it cannot take place until you do.

14 Comments

  1. Powerful, Jonathan and Perry. The people I see in my courtroom with mental health issues benefit from good medical care, including drugs. There’s no two ways about it. As Perry said, we take drugs to help the other organs of the body so their should not be an exception for the one in our skulls.

  2. Jonathan,
    Thanks for the great article. I read Perry’s original article the other day and I was blessed to read it. I was so glad to read something finally from the pulpit’s side for once.

    I have struggled for 15 yrs with clinical depression and anxiety issues and during those years If I have shared about my struggle, people within the church have all said the same thing. You need to: Pray more, Have more faith in God, Read your Bible more, Meditate on certain Bible verses, You don’t need medication you just need to rely on God.

    I was very humbled by Perry’s article especially coming from a Pastor’s point of view. I don’t hear hardly anything about depression or mental health issues in our church. I believe it would be healthy for more Pastors to talk about mental health issues in church. There are more and more people struggling everyday and they would probably take comfort in hearing a kind word about mental health issues in church. It may even give them hope in reaching out for help.

    I am blessed that I have a good psychologist and a good support system in my husband and my family. We could all use more support by way of the church, if they just spoke up more on the issues on mental health.

  3. Thanks for this story. Whew.
    Perry Noble is one brave guy. He should be applauded for sharing his journey. I hope he lands on his feet and stays healthy and finds support in the Christian community.

    I found religion to be very unhelpful for my own depression – it took me years to discover why belief in Jesus for 44 years may have been the cause for some of my depression.

    Only when I discovered I had been forcing primitive ideas to make sense: “Blood Sacrifice”, “Scapegoating”,”Vicarious Redemption” and the self-hatred and servility which Jesus preached did I find the freedom to think clearly.
    Repression and wish-thinking is bad for the mind.

    I WON’T SAY that is Perry’s problem. I am not qualified.
    We all know Christians who were depressed and committed suicide upon discovering they were gay, for example.
    But I do have a personal understanding of depression and leaving religion was my remedy. I would never claim that it would be his remedy. But I can’t help thinking about how difficult life already is without the burden of ‘faith’ that religion puts us through.

    • Correction: Sorry – Meant to say “we all have heard OF Christians who committed suicide because they were gay…” sorry.
      Some of us also have heard of women who were suicidal rather than get a divorce. I don’t claim to know that religion is the problem in those cases.

  4. I feel extremely sorry for these extremist religionists, and problems they suffer, but I feel even more sorry for the people they convince to follow their sick ways of presuming to know so much about that which good, solid science has not yet discovered. And the ways of scientific search and discovery are much more reliable than the ready acceptance of ancient mythology as if it were science, sociology, history, or psychology.

    When people are confronted with troubles in their lives, whether they are mental disturbances or whether they are natural conditions like homosexuality that so many religious people, following mythology rather than science, convince them are mental disturbances, those result in problems with functionality. That is when religion can be a very serious trouble for so many rather than any help. It can be downright harmful, even evil.

    You can’t “pray away the gay,” and you can’t pray away real mental problems. There are not many clergy or other religious leaders who are competent therapists of any kind to help disturbed people with any real mental problems. Being “queer” is only a problem when ignorant people cause disturbances in gays because they do not have the same sexual interests–orientation–as the majority of people. You know, “straight” people. If straight people are straight, then gay people must be crooked!

    It is very dangerous for practicing therapists like Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s husband to take public funding to use religion to “cure” homosexuals of their “deviation.” Mr. Bachmann and people like him would do much better to direct anyone who is suffering from any kind of disturbance for any reason to a competent therapist. He would do much better running a good referral service than attempting to use religion to “cure” what he lacks in handling with scientific understanding and distorts as a deviation. Of course, if he’s not a good therapist, he could not be a good reference for those who need competent help elsewhere.

    It seems that a God who “uses broken things for his glory” is a vicious God. In the first place, why would he make “broken things” if he is perfect? That would be horribly mean to say the least. Then to turn around–not sure how God “turns around” if God is not physical–and exploit his “broken” creation to add glory to himself presents two problems. If God is perfect, what need could God have of more glory? And again, God would be evil to take glory out of his miserable, messed-up creation to add to his own lack of glory. God would be just as evil as Michelle Bachmann and her therapist husband.

    God would be just as evil as the early-resigned governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, whom John McCain so stupidly chose to be his vice-presidential running mate and has yet to admit how badly he goofed. Ever since moving from being an unknown, Palin has gone about preaching evil and becoming much more wealthy from that preaching than she could ever have become from serving as vice-president. Can anyone imagine the latter, even though Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice-president, John Nance Garner, claimed the job wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm —-.” The job has been upgraded a bit from just waiting for the president to die since then.

    Heck, even Paul Ryan was ready to give up his “admirable” work on the House Budget Committee, following his true saint, the atheist Ayn Rand, and preventing opportunity for the masses while he continue to live off the public dole. Like Palin, Ryan used that job as a stepping stone to replace Mitt Romney sooner or later. And he’s still trying without Romney as a running mate. Oh, how the Ayn Rand-ish wealthy even use each other to become ever more wealthy. Wealth is a disease. No one has ever remained honest and become wealthy.

  5. Hey, I have a suggestion, why not read, ” Will Medicine stop the pain.” By Laura Hendrickson.
    She recently passed away, and I believe this was her “life Work.”
    It’s well worth the time and energy to explore.

    Thanks,
    Lynn

  6. concretesummer

    Dear,,

    Hi.. please introduce myself,,I am Asian,24 years old. I am unemployed. I have been fired from the job I was in twice. I can hardly find any other job bcs of my bad working experience on my cv.
    Since then, I realized that I am a slow learner. I was fired bcs I did mistakes for so many times and didn’t understand the instructions properly.

    Well, I have big problem with learning new thing. I used to be a very hardworker but still there always be some flaws on my work. My supervisor always mad at me like, “I’ve said it so many times!”. They did right thing. I didnt blame my previous supervisors who fired me. All I am blaming is my ability of learning and understanding.

    Because of this,I know my weakness well. This leads me to have a terrible feeling when it comes to talk to someone, I’m always getting nervous and panic when I have to explain something. That’s one of the reason why I got fired. I have bad communication skill. Why, because I am afraid if I’m doing wrong.

    Ever since the last day of my working, I haven’t applied for any job yet. I have traumatic feeling about getting fired. My mom always scold me and asking why I’m not looking for another Job. In fact, I never told this to anyone before include, (especially) my parents. I told them that my contract was terminated because I had to handle another job outside my Job desc. I didn’t tell them the honest reason.

    I can’t even share this to my bestfriends bcs they are the people I am envy with. They are the people I wish I could be. They are now having good position in their company with good salary. I feel so much intimidated when we go out for cinema or just hanging out,, they’re all proudly spending their self-earn money and sharing their working experience. Meanwhile, I am still using my parent’s money,, and the leftover money from my last salary.Things are getting harder for me when they ask what my daily activities are. In fact Im just doing nothing at home.

    I keep telling lies to everyone. I am really afraid to tell the truth and to be judged. Having myself as a slow learner has already become the most hurtful thing I have to face.

    Now I am fighting so much againts my own anxiety and low self esteem. I am so afraid what if I never get a proper job.
    I am really expecting for you to do me a favor about what to do? What am I supposed to do ?
    I am so much thankful for your help..

    Best Regards
    @noodlesoup6

    • I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I know exactly where you are coming from, and have experienced it too. Stop trying to impress people. Just do you. Do what you like to do to the glory of God. Everybody else doesn’t matter.

      Granted, I know that this will not be received well by most people – let alone be understood by most; however, I never have to look down anymore.

      Blessings

  1. […] INTERVIEW: Megachurch pastor Perry Noble admits depression, suicidal thoughts In a blog published this week titled, “Should Christians take Medication for Mental Illness?,” mega-church pastor Perry Noble said Christians struggling with anxiety or depression should consider taking mood-altering drugs to help them cope. He … Read more on Religion News Service […]

  2. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
  3. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

Leave a Reply

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

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.