Last updated: February 21, 2024
Demons and Devils
Stacey McDonald grew up in a very devout Pentecostal family, the youngest of three siblings. During those years, this meant maintaining an outward standard of no makeup, jewelry or worldly dancing. For the women, it means always wearing long skirts. Weekly, Stacey and her family went to church Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and three to four times on Sunday. Stacey has wonderful memories of services filled with handclapping, foot-stomping praise, worship and fellowship. Her church experiences were also characterized by tent meetings, all-night prayer, evangelism on street corners, signs, healings, and exorcisms.
Stacey, who is now a school psychologist and mental health speaker and writer, wasn’t thinking about psychology then. “I did not become aware of mental health at that point; I became aware of what was all demons and devils.”
“Demons and devils” is exactly what Stacey’s church community thought when her family life took a dark turn. When Stacey was four years old, her father, who had been present and loving up to that point, began exhibiting bizarre and even abusive behavior. Their church community did not attempt to understand his behavior or refer him for help. Instead, he was ostracized.
Stacey didn’t understand what was going on. She says she would ask herself, “Why does my dad not care about me? Why does he not love me? Why is he not there the way that he was there?” He ended up at Eastern State hospital with a Schizophrenia diagnosis. When the family visited him, Stacey saw there were others at the mental hospital, not just her dad. It dawned on her that no one wanted to be in there.
This was a lightbulb moment for Stacey, who looks back and says, “If we can understand the signs of mental health and mental health disorders, we can help heal – as the church should and always should – rather than ostracize.”
A Safe Place
When Stacey was in her 20s, she began the process of forgiving her father. She would write letters about her feelings and tear them up, finding this exercise cathartic. “And this was before I ever took a psych class,” she says. “I was just writing letters and tearing them up. And the more I began to think about it and process it, I said, ‘I want to go to school for this.’”
“This” meant the study of psychology. Stacey obtained a Masters degree in School Psychology in 2007 and then an Educational Specialist Degree in 2009. She now practices full-time as a school psychologist providing testing, diagnosis, and psychological counseling for grades K-12. “We deal with mental health disorders every day,” she says.
Stacey began pastoring the same time she began her school psychology career. As one in five adults in the U.S. suffer from mental illness, Stacey sometimes encountered church members and their loved ones who were suffering in this way. Since Stacey happened to have the skill set, resources and empathy for such people, they found her to be “a pastor who understands.” Stacey realized that the church needs to be a safe place for people to say they are struggling, and the pastor needs to be safe enough to say, “This is beyond my purview. Let me refer you to a psychotherapist, someone who can perhaps treat you,” she says.
Stacey’s experiences from her childhood, career, and ministry converged. She began McDonald Ministries International in 2022, through which she offers “The Gospel of Mental Health” in the form of a book, seminars and an annual conference. Through her website, she also offers Mental Health Mondays, a podcast, a blog, mental check-ins, and resources for help.
The Gospel of Mental Health
Christians know that “gospel” means “good news.” Therefore, “The Gospel of Mental Health” means there is good news about your mental health. This doesn’t mean your mental health is necessarily good at the moment. “You may be in the basement; you may be in the hell of mental health,” Stacey says. “But wherever you may be, there is good news.”
The first piece of good news is that God loves people with mental health issues, just as He loved Elijah, “who was ready to give it all up and was wishing to die,” says Stacey. God gave Elijah something to eat and told him to rest. “He didn’t take away his anointing, he didn’t take away his gifting, he didn’t take away his calling.” Stacey believes that our response toward mental health issues should be like God’s – comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 describes God as “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
The second piece of good news is that the Bible is all about mental health. “God has been invested in mental health since the very beginning. And He hasn’t stopped,” says Stacey. “There’s not a Scripture I can think of that does not in some way involve helping our mental health or naming ways that can harm our mental health.”
There’s more good news. People with mental health disorders are not cursed, demonized, or guilty. Mental health struggles are like physical health struggles, according to Stacey; they involve an organ
(the brain) that affects the mind.
The Lowest Point
Stacey is willing to speak out on a topic many Christians find uncomfortable – suicide. She finds that too many Christians will all-too-quickly call suicide “the cowardly way,” and she calls them out for saying that. “When you’re depressed, there’s no coward, and there’s no bravery. You’re just depressed. There’s no decision-making at this point. It’s my brain and my mind making decisions for me.”
Stacey works to undo the damage that has been too often created in church communities. Putting herself in the shoes of someone with a mental health disorder and ostracized by the church, she says, “It’s sickening. I’m already suffering. I’m already wondering if I want to wake up the next d
ay. Are you serious that now you’re going to put a demon on top of that? And then, listen – if I were to take my own life, now you won’t even do my funeral because you said I’m in hell.”
Stacey also calls out the way the enemy will work through mental illness. “Everything’s not demonized in regard to depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc, but the enemy will certainly hijack it, take advantage of it, to try to get you to the lowest point to say, ‘I cancel my own life out.’”
Stacey considers mental health disorders to stem from the same place as all struggles: the repercussions of the fall. “We don’t just stay there, though,” she says. Stacey is a big advocate of strategies that help us have mental wellness, such as healthy eating, deep breathing, meditation
, journaling, gratitude, and processing adverse childhood experiences. “We talk about those things. You’re not just looking at yourself and saying, ‘Woe is me.’ You’re looking at where this came from.”
Do You Have a Relationship with Jesus Christ?
After pastoring for 10 years, Stacey transitioned into evangelism, which keeps her weekends busy and is one of her greatest passions alongside raising awareness about mental health. Growing up in a church culture of evangelism, Stacey was used to going into a Walmart and asking people if they knew about Jesus. Nowadays, Stacey and her husband are invited to churches for retreats and conferences almost every weekend to share the gospel.
Stacey stands by the word of God when it comes to evangelism. “You said You want Your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Your will is for every man, woman, boy and girl to be saved,” she declares in prayer. “So open up the door for Your will to be done. I’m not asking You anything amiss. I’m not asking You anything outside of Your will. Help me to have an opportunity to minister to this soul. And when the opportunity comes, give me the words to say.”
Stacey will be the first one to tell you that you don’t need to be a professional of any kind to share the gospel. “Just ask the people around you: do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? And if you feel as if bringing it up is at an inappropriate time, the Lord is going to open up that door. And that’s where prayer comes in.”
A Student For Life
Stacey, who is from Lexington, had wanted to study ministry for years but had to wait until she was beyond raising three young children while pastoring and working full time. “I always wanted to go to Asbury Seminary. When the Lord opened up that door, I tell you – I put on my sneakers and ran through as fast as I could.”
Stacey began the M.Div. in 2022 and does a combination of in-person and online classes. She has loved every one of them. “I want to be a student at Asbury until I die. I want to keep learning, keep gleaning ‘cause you can never stop, you can never get enough,” she says. “I always want to be thirsty. He who hungers and thirsts after righteousness shall be filled.” When she finishes her M.Div., she plans to work toward her D.Min.
And Stacey isn’t through with The Gospel of Mental Health. She says, “A huge part of my life’s assignment is to blot out the stigma of mental illness, help families and individuals who are struggling from its torment, and to ultimately reveal the love, grace and power of God toward the mentally ill and those impacted by it.” Stacey wants to increase and broaden their scope globally in order to reach people in diverse places. “As the Lord hastens His return, He promises there’s going to be some things that are going to shake up our mental health,” she says. She wants to be there to support those who are struggling, direct them to resources in their areas, and teach them to thrive.
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