Encouraging, Living, Reaching

Mental Health Stigma and Medication

Mental Health Stigma and Medication

On January 24 I hosted a seminar on Mental Health and the Believer with the help and support of assemblyHUB.  Approximately 80 people attended with a good mixture of those struggling with mental illness first hand and those wishing to learn more in order to understand better and help those of us who daily face the challenges that these illnesses present.

The feedback was very positive overall and here are a few of the comments we received.

This conference has hit home to me in many ways, and has explained many things going on with some family and friends.

Please hold more sessions. Loved the variety and choice of the panel. Great range of perspectives represented.

Thank you for breaking the silence regarding mental illness. This day has been a blessing to me.

One thing that was often noted in the feedback was that we did not have adequate time to consider the discussion questions after the presentations. Here are three questions and a few of my comments. I invite you to give your response to any of the questions as well.

If you missed the seminar and would like to hear the sessions presented, please visit the Mental Health Audio page and listen.

Why do we place a stigma on mental illness?

I think we tend to see mental illness as a combination of personality weakness, lack of spiritual strength, laziness, lack of self discipline and a mixture of other unknown and uncomfortable factors. The stigma is a way of pushing away those who make us uncomfortable. (Mental illness is only one of the many misunderstood issues that we tend to stigmatize.)

We can also be guilty of maintaining stigmas out of peer pressure. Even if we ourselves know it is wrong, we don’t speak up because we fear that then the stigma will be on us too.

Why is taking medication for mental illness considered wrong by so many?

There is a lot of misunderstanding of what the medication does. Most medications do not alter the mood of the individual. They restore the biological chemical imbalance in the brain that causes faulty thinking.

Some fear that medication is an attempt to deal with a spiritual problem by medical intervention. Medication will not resolve nor interfere with spiritual issues, but restored healthy thinking makes spiritual matters much easier to deal with.  If people don’t see mental illness as a real illness then medication is seen as only diverting the attention to a “false” cause of the problem.

For the sake of clarity I want to say that I do not believe that medication is THE solution for treating all mental illness. For some illnesses it is essential while for others it can greatly relieve the physical aspect of the mental disorder. In some ways it is like pain relief; it is a great blessing but not a cure for the problem. Counselling , therapy, spiritual support and emotional healing are all important for the greatest recovery.

How do these perceptions affect the sufferer?

Most people with mental health challenges already feel very isolated and struggle with guilt and shame. As they observe the stigma that others face for the problems they themselves are dealing with, their loneliness is reinforced and their resolve grows to talk to no one about their struggle.

When other Christians express their belief that the problem is all spiritual and that they need to try harder to overcome it, the guilt and shame grow along with a deep sense of hopelessness.

I am deeply grateful for the scientific research and study that have gone into the production of medications to treat mental illness as well as other illnesses. I believe that we should take all of this medical help as from the hand of God.

He gave the ability to the men and women who develop these treatments. We are quick to embrace medication for all our other illnesses with gratitude.  I for one would be much more limited in my life and ministry if it were not for medication that helps me think more clearly.

Eddy Plett

Eddy fellowships at Port of Grace Community Church in Port Colbourne, ON. He and his wife Erna served as missionaries in Italy for 9 years before returning to Canada. His longing is to edify the Church through helping believers overcome their personal struggles in order to be all that the Lord wants them to be.

7 Responses to Mental Health Stigma and Medication

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    Eddy, I’ve had two experiences with professional counselling. The first, coming from a secular background, was worse than useless. With no more than 20 minutes of conversation to go on, he pronounced me a “good person”, something both irrelevant to my needs and impossible for him to know.

    The second was a Christian professional who was likable and warm but constantly forgot what we had discussed from session to session, so that it never felt like I was making any progress. It seemed to me that he saw so many people that our stories blurred together after a while.

    Further (though this is only anecdotal), I’ve worked with numerous people who found secular counselling disastrous for their troubled teens. Psychologists merely empowered the kids to challenge their parents rather than helping them modify their own behaviour.

    All of this makes me leery of counselling outside the church, though I recognize in some cases it may be absolutely necessary.

    Where someone is already getting help from a secular counsellor about medical issues or wrong thinking, do you see value in regularly spending time with a local church elder as well? My thought is that an elder is likely to know you and remember your issues in a way no secular counsellor can, and brings that spiritual component to that table that no mere professional can. I realize not all elders are up to the job, but surely some must be.

    • Avatar
      Eddy Plett

      One of the issues that was addressed by the panel at the seminar was that of finding the right fit with a professional helper when needed. I too had a negative experience with a Medical professional and it does make me wary. However I was greatly helped by another secular professional. God is sovereign and we need to gratefully accept His help through whatever channel He chooses to use.

      As believers we should never stand by and leave the caring of fellow believers to the “professionals”. The best of professionals can spend very limited time with the individual. While their help is often necessary and very helpful we all need the loving care of the Body of Christ. Not only elders need to be available to share the struggles of the suffering, we all need to be supporting each other spiritually. We cannot expect unbelieving secular professionals to offer spiritual guidance. Neither can we expect all elders and fellow believers to be qualified to speak to physical and biological issues.

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    thank you Mr. Plett for you honest, thought out and balanced presentation of this. We were so sorry to have to miss the day of teaching but due to previous commitments were unable to attend. Truth and balance on these matters are sorely lacking these days and what you have said is hopefully and grace filled! Thank you!

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    James Gibbons

    This is such a frustrating issue. Of course, some mental illness is the result of bad lifestyle choices or the residual consequences of past behaviors. But much of it is nothing more (and nothing less) than an organ malfunction. In either case, it is counterproductive for Christians to stigmatize mental illness. It simply does not help.

    Heart disease (an organ malfunction), diabetes (an organ malfunction), kidney disease (an organ malfunction)…are all illnesses that may or may not be aggravated by lifestyle choices (current, past, or habitual sin?). Yet, nobody would suggest that you caused your own heart disease, so you should just live with it (or worse yet, deny it). Yet, this seems to be the response of many Christians toward mental illness.

    I am not a big fan of introducing foreign substances into the body. But I do have relatives and dear friends who suffer from mental illness. I have seen what happens when they go off their meds. It can be destructive to their lives, livelihood, and relationships.

    Having said all that, why would we not meet mental illness with the same love with which we meet other afflictions of a fallen world?

    By the way, I am pretty excited as I see millennials dealing with issues such as this one. There are some things I wish were more serious about. But, MAN, do they put us boomers (and others) to shame in the area of showing the Lord’s love all the time, everywhere.

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    Eddy, as I sat paralyzed with fear(social anxiety disorder)at the seminar, the thing that was most prominent to me was that, “I am NOT alone”. I have learned over many years to hide behind a mask, and I was very good at this, nobody knew about the deep pain, emotional baggage and scars that had accumulated since childhood.

    Being in fellowship with other believer’s I felt the need to continue to keep these things hidden, as I had fear and anxiety of being thought less of, or of hearing the words, “you need to pray more”, “search the word”, and so on, but those thoughts were very presumptuous(due to my OCD, which at times gives me little control over my racing thoughts). The very thought of taking off the mask which hid my mental illness and making myself vulnerable, was an instant panic attack !

    Good news ! At the seminar it was suggested by many to have at least one or two people that we can call in a time of need, pray with, and that will just listen when we need to pour our heart out. Myself, growing up in an environment where you “suck it up”, “toughen up”, and don’t talk about such things, you hold them in and in time they will go away. NOT TRUE !!

    There are many suffering quietly, and many wanting to reach out and help. I believe the Lord is putting a bridge between the two sides. I’m a witness to this first hand, I’ve taken off my mask. When I first opened up to one of my elders, he was taken back, and he had few words. Not because of a lack of compassion or that he didn’t want to hear this. He felt my pain deeply as I explained what I was going through, how I was seeking help spiritually from an elder in another assembly, that I am seeking help on the physical side(medication) from my family doctor, and talking to a professional counsellor. body/soul/Spirit. So the thoughts I had of my elder rejecting any of this, was indeed opposite and he encouraged me to seek whatever help I needed. He too has taken it upon himself to learn more about mental illness. What a God we serve!

    As I’ve just begun the healing, I’m learning how to deal with the many areas of my mental illness that had me trapped. The baggage of emotional scars and deep pain that I lug behind me, weighing me down, has indeed begun to shrink, and I feel the load getting lighter. This is not a quick fix. I know that the road to recovery may have bumps. Our Heavenly Father wants us well, so that we can serve Him more efficiently.

    I felt tremendous guilt when I thought about seeking help, feeling as though I wasn’t trusting in Him enough to get me through this. I now have a peace and feel my heavenly Father embracing me and wants me well, that’s why He has surrounded me with so many helpful people, tools, and resources. I’m thankful that He gave me the courage to take off my mask. The body of Christ is vast, we are to love one another, care for one another, weep with those who weep, be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love. I have many brothers and sisters in the Lord praying for my wellness.

    I write these thoughts as an encouragement to those who still quietly suffer, it need not be….I pray that you to, can take off your mask.

    Philippians 4:13 tells me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

    • Avatar
      Eddy Plett

      James, Thanks so much for sharing how the Lord has been helping you as you start your journey toward mental health. Your personal testimony of the Lord’s provision is an encouragement to me. I will continue to pray for you as you continue to look to the Lord to meet your needs. He wants to do this through the Body of Christ as well as other instruments as He chooses.

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    Donna Berry

    My mask has never come off. I have a wrecked life. My grown daughter was fine until 2000 and she suddenly developed mental illness to a shocking degree. It has progressed now to … i don’t have a name for describing the shape she is in. she has never taken medication. thats the biggest problem. the thing is there is no help for the mentally ill. You will find government funded group homes and assisted living in every state for the mentally disabled. Mental illness even has a different legal term. When my daughter gets so bad we can get a 72 hour hospitalization. She takes medication while in the State Hospital but tosses it as soon as she is out. she will not take medication. I am not professionally trained or qualified to deal with her. I do my best but no one can handle her illness. No assisted living is out there for her. No help at all. She is 34 and she has the mind of a 5 or 6 year old. She is a little girl, in every way. She is inside an adult womans body, I can not make her brush her teeth or shower. The little girl is her norm. When she is hard to deal with is when she gets mad at everyone and talks to invisible people who are not there. Many strange behavior. My family and I have never dealt with any type of mental illness. This is very hard because we have no help and no one knows how best to talk to her. It is sad how she use to be. If she only knew, she would take her medicine. She is nothing similar to the woman she use to be. I don’t know what is going to become of her or of us. We pass her around to keep the stress of dealing with her evenly distributed. Thanks for much insight

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