Brian Johnson on Mental Health, Medication and Fighting Stigmas

Brian Johnson on Mental Health, Medication and Fighting Stigmas by JESSE CAREY for Relevant Magazine

The Bethel music co-founder on the spiritual and professional help that carried him through a season of nervous breakdown.

A few years ago, Brian Johnson had an experience that changed his life.

The worship leader and co-founder of Bethel Music had a panic attack that sent his life into a spiral. In his new book, When God Becomes Real, Johnson talks about the 6-month long nervous breakdown that ensued, and how he eventually found hope, healing and a message for others facing mental health issues.

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RELEVANT: Tell me a little bit why you wanted to write this book.

You know, my team and Jen, my wife, were really encouraging me to write the story. It was nothing short of a miracle getting out of that season. I think it brings a lot of hope. When I shared [my story] at church, it ended up being the number-one watched message for the year. That showed us people are really wanting this and needing this, because a lot of people struggle with depression, anxiety, hopelessness.

When we jumped into it I started realizing there’s actually quite a lot that would be a real help for people. The music is what I do professionally, but this book feels more pure to me. We did this as a pure ministry move to help people who are struggling with anxiety and depression and all of those things.

In the book you talk about having a panic attack. How would you describe that experience to someone who hasn’t gone through that?

It’s an otherworldly feeling. It kind of takes over your body. You can’t breathe, can’t think straight—that’s a scary one—when your mind is not working, that’s pretty paralyzing. The sense of hopelessness is so strong that you just can’t reason it away. It’s all consuming. The word hell becomes very real. Not that you’re going to hell, but to me, that’s what hell would be like.

For me the bigger thing was the nervous breakdown. It ended up being a bigger thing than just one panic attack. Something was actually broken in me. Through six months of trying to work with people and the medications and different things and the miracle of how it all ended and how God broke through…that’s the story I really would love to tell. I really feel like there is hope for people. It felt so impossible, and God brought me out of it.

Why do you think this experience gave you this new form of exposure to God’s presence?

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