Finding Spiritual Shelter from Mental Health Struggles

Religious Hope and Support Have Helped Many Cope

Darren Brewer sat alone in his Brooklyn apartment as his thoughts began to race. Paranoia quickly set in. The overwhelming urge to flee took over. Brewer escaped the confines of his home and wandered the streets for two days. His symptoms had never been worse.

In 2008, while living in Jacksonville, Florida, Brewer experienced panic attacks and paranoia. “I didn’t know if work just got too overwhelming, it was being away from family, or trying to make ends meet, but the stress became too much. It led to my mental breakdown,” he said.

Such mental and emotional distress haunts millions. A recent government survey showed a doubling since 2019 in the proportion of Americans reporting anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms.

After a round of treatment and therapy, Brewer’s symptoms vanished for nine years. Life was good. He had a steady job, lived close to family, and in 2017, he married.

But in 2020, the pandemic revealed that his symptoms were much more than stress.

In November 2020, Brewer’s wife returned from visiting her mother in California, to an empty home. With no sign of her husband, she diligently searched for two days. Finally, she found him pacing downtown Brooklyn. His condition was worse than ever, and he was hospitalized for over a month.

Recently, Brewer said he has returned to his “old self.” “My wife says she has her husband back. My mother and sisters say they have their son and brother back.”

He credits his recovery to a combination of medical treatments, support from his congregation and his hope from the Bible.

Brewer’s transformation is no isolated phenomenon. Faith and the support of a congregation have helped many others turn the corner in their recovery.

“While the Bible does not indicate that spirituality cures medical problems, many have derived comfort and strength from what the Bible teaches and the practical guidance it provides,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Hope, support and positive coping skills aid mental health—whether these are built up by professional or faith-based sources, noted Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Mission Hills, California. Even those with serious mental health conditions may find some aspects of religious participation help them cope with their symptoms, he said.

Brewer’s reflection on God’s love strengthens him daily. “I have the faith that God sees what I’m going through, what we’re all going through, and feels compassion for us,” he said. He’s found this compassion also expressed by those within his congregation, which he said was instrumental during his most difficult times. “So, I have faith that no matter what I go through in the future, God is going to be there for me.”

Brewer said the Bible’s hope of a time when no sickness will exist on earth helps him to endure. “Keeping my mind focused on this hope of no disease, anxiety or stress keeps me going,” he said.


More information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including resources for coping with mental illness and emotional distress, can be found on their official website, www.jw.org.