Is Mental Illness a Sin?

Recently, I read a comment that said that mental illness should not be looked at as a sin. In other words, if somebody sins due to mental illness this should not be considered sin. This idea is gaining momentum in many Christian circles and must be discussed before it is accepted as fact. Being someone who does not struggle with any diagnosable mental illness it is hard to relate. However, I do have friends and family which struggle with mental illness and have seen its effects first hand.

What is mental illness? The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness in the following way:
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.
This definition is very broad and any range of normal health conditions could also be included, such as, being tired or hungry depending on the resulting behaviour. In fact, this definition could easily do away with sin all together. This leaves us with the question, when is it mental illness and when is it sin? Where is the line?

The Bible tells us we are all sinners which means there is a such a thing as sin (Rom. 3:23). Any definition of mental illness that does away with the category of sin is clearly wrong, regardless of the person making the definition or their titles. Perhaps the solution to this question is found in the story of the man possessed by the legion of demons.
They came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind. (Mark. 5:15)
When Jesus cast the demons out of this man he was able to return to his right mind. The common denominator between demon-possession and mental illness is the lack of control of one's mind. It seems to me that if someone knows what they are doing then they have the ability control it which means it is sin. We must remember that the difficulty in controlling something does not factor in to it's designation as sin, since sin is defined by God.

However, even if someone does not know what they are doing that does not mean they are not responsible. It is similar to the person who accidentally kills someone and must flee to a city of refuge (Num. 35:9 - 29). Although they may not have had the intent to kill, and therefore were not in control, what they did was sin and they still needed forgiveness.

In summary, sin is sin regardless of the cause of it. Mental illness is no different then selfishness or sensuality when it comes to the definition of sin. God determines what is sin not us. If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental illness let's never forget what Jesus said to the disciples when they could not cast out the demon.
This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (Mark 9:29).


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