How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

Going my way?
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com.

by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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Doctor’s Orders

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And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

I am convinced that as strugglers who just happen to be believers, there is a deep truth we need to know.  Simply that we are the ‘audio-visual’ (AV) department of the Church.

We display for all who can see with seeing eyes, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can be mixed up, and very confused at times. But in contrast, He is everything, our all in All. As the AV people, we show and declare (out of our very lives) the profound kindnesses of God.

We are meant to be see and heard, because that is what the AV department does best. But that is really not our natural tendency or inclination. Jesus spoke of a “candle on a lampstand,” that gives light into the house. Frightening as this must seem, this is our certain place.

We stand (only because He makes us) and proclaim the solid mercy and kindness of God, for awful sinners. Maybe in this short life– that is all we can really do. Fair enough. But still we hear that compelling call to become visible for Him– His fantastic glory.

We may become quite intimidated. It seems we know far more about sin than we do about holiness. Quite a few of us are expert sinners. Some of us have our  Ph.D in evil. We have taken training in sin, and are quite proficient in it.

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.”

1 Timothy 1:15, NLT

When it comes to holiness or purity, we discover that we are totally out of our league. We will often try to “fake” it, but we are surprised when the Holy Spirit resists us. He will not let us deceive ourselves in this way. We have no claim to self-righteousness.

Our sins and weaknesses, depressions and sicknesses become even more evident in time. We are the ones who walk with a definite limp. We will falter, and we will stumble. But we continue to turn to Jesus. And in this action, others will see mercy that is poured out on rascals such as us.

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”

Luke 18:13

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Just One More Dance

Do the Dance-- For Him
Do the Dance– For Him

14 And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.”

2 Samuel 6:13-15

When I start to dance, you had better head for higher ground!  I am without question the world’s worst and the clumsiest of all.  And since my brain surgery it has gotten even worse.  I need to use a cane now, because of all that.  (If you look up “klutz” in the dictionary you’ll see my picture lol.)  Even so, I do love the idea of dancing, but I’m like Bozo, the circus clown on roller-skates.  I lurch from side-to-side and I’m always on the verge of falling on someone’s lap.  Which is a real hoot!

But there is just one dance that I am waiting for. It is the dance I will have with my Savior.  There will be a day, in a place and time where He will call me and I will dance.  It will be remarkable for me, and its a day that I anticipate and hope it comes soon. (I have been practicing, lol.)

To dance is to liberate your heart.  You must cancel out all self-consciousness.  If you are self-aware, you will never enter into the joy and wonder of the dance.  You will be a perpetual wall-flower, living only on the edges.  And, you will be very sad. It seems you must dance in your heart, before you can ever dance with your feet.

I desperately want to dance.  I see Him clearly on that day when I have no cane, and am as graceful as I hope to be. I will not be watching you, (sorry) but I will see only Him.  I believe that my heart will beat exclusively for Him.

Some of you have been crippled; smashed in the awful gears of life. But I also know that your life can be also astonishingly full of grace– you have endured so much, and yet Jesus intends to occupy your thoughts and vision.  When I am with Him, my heart will finally be free to dance. You will find Him to be the “Dancing Lord.’

“Young women and young men, together with the elderly, will celebrate and dance, because I will comfort them and turn their sorrow into happiness.”

Jeremiah 31:12-14

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Sunshine and Mercy

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The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6, NLT

“I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”

2 Samuel 24:14

Sitting on the deck, it’s a frosty morning, but the morning sun is bright. It’s a typical spring day here in Alaska, which means the sun is pushing back the winter for all it’s worth. We have a ‘the love affair’ with the sun; it hides herself in the gloominess of winter— only to show herself off big time during our summers.

Soaking up the sun got me thinking about the mercy of God. I find I am of two minds. For the most part I love His mercy. It is probably the attribute I love most about Him. Mercy defined by my dictionary:

  • compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner.”

Who could not like this in ones deity? Most of us would agree that we are thrilled that God is this compassionate— especially when we’re such rascals ourselves. We will ground ourselves in His mercy, even when our minds give up.

But this is the hard part. I must be as merciful as He is. Mercy comes with the caveat that I become a compassionate person, even to those who are undeserving.

“Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:33

If you want mercy, you must be prepared to give it. Perhaps this is how God changes the world?

See what the Alaskan sunshine can do?

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“When a Christian shows mercy, he experiences liberation.”   ~Warren Wiersbe

 

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