Mental Illness

In the last while due to a variety of circumstances I have had the opportunity to reflect a lot on mental illness. In NZ we currently have a campaign that is striving to bring mental illness into the light and to detach the stigma many people have associated with it 'like minds , like mine' or something similar. Anyway.

I have had opportunity to be introduced to John (not real name) who has severe mental illness (psychotic episodes/voices) . I was working with John, who is high school aged, before his illness became severe. John's mum is at her wits end about what to do with John and is feeling overwhelmed. John is currently very ill and is currently trying to find appropriate treatement.

It made me think again about how do we deal with Mental illness in the church? What experiences do you have? Pastoral or otherwise? Are we any better or worse than non christians? If you have first hand esperience with mental illness , what is your experience?

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4 thoughts - add yours!:

  1. Tim Says:

    About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with moderate depression---not the most major of all possible mental illnesses. My doctor prescribed something for it, which (after a week or two) seemed to work. Later, it appeared to be causing physical side effects, so my doctor switched me to other medication. Medication doesn't work for everyone, but (at least initially) it worked for me.

    Anyway, since you're specifically talking about this in relation to the church, I should say that occasionally when I was talking to Christian friends about it, and mentioned the name of the drugs my doctor had prescribed, they would sound surprised and say that they were taking (or used to take) the same thing. In two cases that I remember, this was the first time I found out that they were being treated for depression.

    Why hadn't this been talked about in church before? (They were both from my own church.) Why didn't I talk about my own depression more? (A significant proportion of my church probably remained unaware of my depression, although they were fully aware of another chronic illness of mine.) How many more people in my church are being treated for depression? What about more major mental illnesses? (I have at least two friends who have suffered from bipolar in the recent past, but they're not from my church.)

    I don't know the answers.


  2. the later rye Says:

    Unfortunately, the Christian community tends to look at mental illness as a sign of sin and weakness in an individual. If you feel depressed, you aren't being thankful enough; If you have hallucinations or feel suicidal, you are possessed by some demon spirit and have gone to the dark side. If you are really stressed, you aren't trusting God enough in your life. This is all a load of mess. Mental illness is a mix of environment and genetics. The spiritual relm can affect some of this possibly, but spirits don't come into play as often as the church claims. Mental illness is an illness. Diabetes, congestive heart failure, and cataracts are all conditions that require either surgery, medication, or both. Mental illness is an illness just as they are. Hopefully you don't hear your church leaders telling those people that they only take medication because they don't have enough faith to be healed or delivered. For some reason the stigma of mental illness seems to be greater in the Christian arena. We are all weak, imperfect creations, with different things wrong with us all and because of pride many Christians are afraid to let others know of weakness because they are then less perfect and less like Christ. Ignorance is bliss, but it can be hell too. Medication is nothing to be ashamed of and going to see a counselor or therapist (I happen to be both) prior to a doctor is probably the best thing to do so a person can process what's going on and which is the desired outcome. I am interested in your thoughts on this issue also. Crowded House Rules! ( I got to see the Finn Brothers in New Orleans a couple of years ago, and it was a great concert).

  3. mangee Says:

    After suffering a bit of stress related depression, I discovered my church offers free/subsidised conselling - not just to depressed people, but anyone who needs it via Te Waipuna Trust.

    As Tim mentioned, depression and mental illness happens to lots of people, and no one ever knows.

    It takes a lot to reach out and talk.

  4. goddot Says:

    Being a psych nurse I deal with people experiencing mental illness everyday. Some recover and live a normal life (if there is such a thing). But many live tortured lives on the margins of society. They becoming revolving door patients in and out of psych wards. Even when they are "well" they live at the margins of society - shunned and stigmatised. They become the ghosts of a society that does not want to know.

    Often the side effects of the medications are as bad as the illness. Hence they stop taking the medication and decompensate leading to another admission.

    The church also shuns them for there is the stigma that someone who sufferes from a mental illness is demon possessed or has some unconfessed sin. In this the church ignores the example of Jesus who accepted everyone without question.