Straight Talk About Mental Health
I am saddened by the number of believers that struggle silently with significant mental health issues. What makes the struggle even greater for most of them is that they are unable to talk about it in the church for fear of being seen as unspiritual. The loneliness of those that suffer silently in the church is added to their sense of guilt and shame.
Dr. Grant Mullen, who specializes in helping mental health sufferers, says that, based on his observations, Christians suffer more deeply with mental health problems than unbelievers because of the stigma we have created in the Church regarding mental illness.
The Wrong Perception about Mental Health
Many believers label mental illness as being a strictly spiritual issue. I had someone recently tell me that they believed that their brother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was really demon possessed and that Jesus dealt with mental illness by simply casting out the demons that caused it. Would you share your struggle with mental illness with these believers? They may be in the minority but if no one speaks up to correct them then the sufferers fear that many others may be in agreement with them.
Many believers believe that mental illness is due to a lack of faith, spirituality, obedience or a combination of all of these. Preachers can easily add to the guilt and shame of the sufferer by making no allowance for mental illness when addressing worry, fear, peace, joy and victorious Christian living. There is hope for those with mental illness, and we need to support them in dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of their struggle.
Coming Alongside the Hurting
Many of our brothers and sisters suffer from mood disorders, depression, ADD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, OCD, abuse – related emotional problems, etc. Do we really want to know who they are? Are we willing to join them in their discomfort of not fully understanding why they struggle with the thoughts and emotions that keep them captive? Why do we tend to assign blame to mental health sufferers while accepting those who have physical health issues (some of which have more research evidence showing their link to unhealthy choices)? Just because we don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean we can’t struggle alongside of them with the questions that they face on a moment by moment basis.
It is my belief that simply bringing these issues out of the “darkness” into the “light” and being willing to walk hand in hand with our brothers and sisters in their struggle would do much to reduce the intensity of these illnesses. While it may not distinguish the flame it would stop throwing additional fuel on it. Why is it that most people who struggle with these illnesses are afraid to openly talk to other believers about their struggles? Is it because we know so little about grace and love and compassion and humility? Is it because we pride ourselves in having biblical answers for everything and these “unknown” illnesses make us uncomfortable? Is this reason enough to pretend they don’t exist?
I believe the Lord is directing me to do what I can to open a discussion on this topic among God’s people. The purpose is to see believers freed to hope again and find healing so that they can be all that God wants them to be. To help further this discussion, I will be sharing some of my own story with you in my next article.