The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illness as “ medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning” and “often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life” (Simpson, 2012, p. 34).
Before I go any further with this blog, I want to clarify that this is not a reflection of my church or anyone in my church. Also, I am not an expert on any mental illness. I only know what I experience as a guardian to my mentally ill siblings for the past eight years. Furthermore, this blog reflects the combination of my studies in Christian counseling, psychology, with my bachelor’s degree and the study of pastoral care, crisis responds within my master’s degree which I’m still working on. Education on mental illness is the key to fighting fear, shame, and stigma.
We need to realize no one chooses mental illness, just as no one chooses cancer or any other illness, “yet we persist in shunning (mental ill) sufferers, laughing at them, and accepting their sense of shame as if it were warranted” (Simpson, 2012, p. 77). This attitude is crippling to people with mental illness. Denial is preferred to getting help. It seems that a world that turns to avoidance, laughter, and blame could just as easily express compassion, kindness, and patience when it lacks the knowledge and fears something.
Furthermore, we need to recognize mental illness can rob a person, the people who love them, and the world of healthy, clear-eyed, and beautiful personalities made in the image of God (Simpson, 2012). There is an ongoing grief of the potential loss of relationships with moms, daughters, sisters, brothers, fathers, etc. with mental illness. Most people understand the grief of someone who died, but the grief in mental illness is not understood. In some cases, it is even hidden. Loneliness is felt when the grief comes with a sense of shame to talk about it.
Help with understanding and feelings of loneliness can be found in support groups such as NAMI and others like it. Emotional, financial, and spiritual support can also come from the church, but if not careful, the church can be a source of pain and shame. Dignity needs to be observed for sacred stories of the past and present that are lined with hurt and pain. The ministry of helping people with mental illness can be a challenging one. It can be a life-time commitment of repeated trials and errors, successes and failures, sadness and joy. It can’t be done lightly, and it can’t be done without some training in the mental health field. All churches and individuals are not cut out for such a ministry. But I believe God equips some individuals and leaders within the church with the desire to learn about mental health to help others. Additionally, I believe God helps people to find a voice, an advocate to stand up and challenge the status quo. Great patience, strength, and prayer are called for if a person or church takes up the challenges of being involved with individuals with mental illness.
Nevertheless, if we accept or not, we are a society of the hurting and suffering trying to find comfort, kindness, love, and peace. God and his church can provide some of the needs of the lost in mind, body, and soul, but only if we step up to the challenge. As Jesus stated in John 13:34-35, “—- Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
My journey is just beginning. What is God calling you and your church to do?
Simpson, A. (2012). Troubled minds: Mental illness and the church’s mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.