The Impact of Christian Persecution on Mental Health
Many Christians in Western nations are not aware that other Christians around the world face persecution. Some of them are chastised, humiliated, isolated, arrested, or beaten for following the words of Jesus. In some cases, they risk their lives to follow the teachings of Christ, and this can take a toll on mental health that can last a lifetime.
Persecution Trauma and Mental Health
Christian persecution causes extreme emotional stress on individuals and families. The trauma experienced by the children in persecuted families can shape the rest of their lives. Sometimes, they witness their homes vandalized or burned, and they have nowhere to go. They can be cut off from their support networks and communities, or they can face continual insults or be chastised for their beliefs daily. The effects of this type of trauma on the brain and body are well-documented.
Some responses to trauma are immediate and cause what is known as a “fight or flight” response. This is the body’s mechanism for coping with immediate danger. Physical symptoms include a rise in blood pressure, sweating, increased heart rate, and a loss of appetite. After the incident, the person might experience confusion, anxiety, nightmares, a feeling of helplessness, anger, and many other immediate responses. They can also experience physical symptoms, like nausea, dizziness, fear of the event happening again, headaches, or being startled easily. These symptoms can signal that a person might be at risk for developing long-term mental health effects from the trauma.
Long-Term Effect of Persecution on Mental Health
Our body has mechanisms to help it return to normal after the danger is over, but in some, the body never returns to its normal state. Sometimes this is because the body’s system fails, or it can be that they face additional stresses after the initial incident, such as a lack of food, grief, or a loss of a sense of safety. The long-term health effects of trauma can be caused by acute trauma, such as being beaten or having one’s life put in danger, but insults, being isolated for your beliefs, or being humiliated can have the same lasting effects. This is especially true if it occurs over a long period.
Sometimes, the longer-term effects of trauma can manifest many years after the cause is no longer a threat. An adult might experience new symptoms of trauma that happened as a child. This is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can cause the person to experience many of the initial responses all over again. They can experience fatigue, mood swings, emotional detachment, fear, guilt, depression, or anxiety. These symptoms can affect their school, work, or relationships.
What Can We Do?
The mental health issues of people who have experienced Christian persecution sometimes go away and resolve on their own, but this takes support and a return to a feeling of safety. Persecuted Christians often face ongoing trauma, and this can set them up for developing long-term mental health challenges that can last the rest of their lives. This can be especially devastating for children who cannot understand what is happening or why. Children need to feel safe to develop into healthy adults, and that is one of the biggest reasons why providing support to these families is so important.
Global Christian Relief recognizes that those who experience persecution for their beliefs need more than just their basic needs met. The Gospel calls for us to raise our voices against injustice and show concern, but that is not enough. In I Corinthians 12:26, Paul says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” Not only do persecuted Christians need assistance with their basic needs, many of them need help overcoming the mental health issues resulting from what they have witnessed.
Giving to organizations that provide support to persecuted Christian families helps them reestablish their sense of safety. Having adequate food and shelter is the first step, but they also need support to help build communities and networks to help them overcome the mental health consequences of persecution. Giving is one way to help them have what they need to feel safe again and to get the mental health help that they need.