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.)
 

A great book:

“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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The Stigma of Mental Illness, (we found dog poop in the living room!)

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Robin Williams’ recent suicide has risen the awareness of many people. Over 70% who commit suicide are mentally ill.

One out of five Americans will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime.  But, people can get better.  With proper treatment, most people with a mental illness recover quickly, and the majority do not need hospital care, or have only brief admissions.

Mental illness has traditionally been surrounded by community misunderstanding, fear, and stigma.  Stigma towards people with a mental illness has a detrimental effect on their ability to obtain services, their recovery, the type of treatment and support they receive, and their acceptance in the community.

Exactly what is stigma?  Stigma means a mark or sign of shame, disgrace or disapproval, of being shunned or rejected by others.  It emerges when people feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about behavior they perceive as different.  The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong that it places a wall of silence around this issue.

It is like hiding the “pile” instead of dealing with it properly.

The effects are damaging to the community as well as to the person will the illness and his/her family and friends.  But at Mental Health agencies and groups all over are working hard to erase the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

In-House-46638176283_xlargeThe emphasis needs to be on supporting and treating people in their own communities, close to their families, friends and familiar surroundings.

Yet discrimination and community misconceptions remain among the most significant barriers to people with a mental illness being able to actively participate in the community and gaining access to the services they need.

But it is not only people with a mental illness who experience discrimination and stigma.  Rejection of people with mental illness inevitably spills over to the caregiver and family members.

Improving community attitudes by increasing knowledge and understanding about mental illness is essential if people with a mental illness are to live in, and contribute to, the community, free from stigma and discrimination.

People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”

~Rosalynn Carter

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Being Honest As I Can

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 “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”

Ephesians 4:25, NLT

I intend to be simple.  I am worried and distressed by my own confusion and a simple disorientation about my own detachment to what is spiritual.  I confess a trust in Him, but am wary of  an evil attachment to things that take me away from Him.  I know this sounds confusing, please bear with me.

I turn to Him, and yet I know that I know that a small part of me does not really belong to Him.  I want to belong, but am conscious that I just don’t work into the Kingdom.  I am a liability.  I quickly will admit to some confusion, but I have no real intention to deceive anyone.  I desperately want to be His, but I’m aware of issues that would defy such a connection.

I have an incredible infatuation with Jesus, and His teaching.  He is the most amazing man to step out out of the ‘river’ of the human race.  I see in Him so much, and deep down I want to fall on my knees and worship Him.  The things He did are honestly the most sublime in the history of man.  He is astonishing.

And yet, I continue to struggle.  I see all of this and yet I’m confronted with my own issues.  I know what I would like to be.  But if I press, I begin to short-circuit.  I do, certainly turn it over to Him.  But I also am aware of a certain antipathy or rebellion (although that word seems too harsh) against the whole idea of grace.  I can not figure ‘grace’ out.  Grace perplexes me.  It is the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the entire human race.

But I do connect with Him.  My bipolar would quickly render me a traitor.  I vacillate much more then the average person.  Ultimately, I do turn and trust Him.  He has led me to a wonderful place.  If it is all a delusion, then so be it.  But I will still believe in Him who gave Himself for me.

If that makes me a disciple, then so be it.  But I know I am the least of His.  I guess faith would venture more.  But I scrape up all that I have and a saving hope it is enough.  I look at the accounts of Him and am pretty much astonished.  Jesus did things, consistently, above others before Him and after Him.  He is quite exceptional.

I am a follower.  I will struggle, and then have to deal with that sin.  But I do believe and intend to keep believing.  I only wish I was more consistent.  I sometime wonder that in the “Book of Life’ if my name would include an asterisk.  (“Made it, but by the skin on his teeth.”)

Don’t fret, I am under His hand.  He deals with me, and fully intends to lead me, home.  I so do want that.  If on that Day, you hear someone hollering, it will be me back in the 715,426,488th row, shouting ‘I am finally here”, in the fellowship of heaven.

Some will understand this:

He who has this disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

Doestevesky

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Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

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One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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In Love with a Lion

 

“I will not leave you alone. You are mine.  I know each of my sheep by name.  You belong to Me.  If you think I am finished with you, if you think I am a small god, that you can keep at a safe distance, I will pounce on you like a roaring lion, tear you to pieces, rip you to shreds, and break every bone in your body.  Then I will mend you, cradle you in my arms, and kiss you tenderly.”

Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb

God stalks us.  He never lets up.  We can never, never out run Him.  A popular 182 line poem, from a generation ago, was called “The Hound of Heaven“.  It described a person being pursued by God. This is part of it.

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.

                                        –by Francis Thompson

The very remarkable thing is not our prodigal hearts; rather it is the amazing love the Father has by chasing us.  Jesus is consistently reckless about capturing us, and making us his own.  His love is like a homing mechanism in a missile shot at us that defies our escape.  We can weave and dodge all we want, but we have been targeted, and He is coming for us.

The way we talk and posture, it as if it is us that does the choosing.  I’m not saying we don’t to a degree.  But the Bible paints God in a different light.  He initiates, and He chooses.  He superintends our life, choreographing our movements.  If you remember the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis it will support this reasoning.

My Bipolar depression and epilepsy issues can never thwart or nullify Jesus’ love for me.  I can’t point at them as reasons not to be his follower.  He is not intimidated by my medical condition. My brain tumor and the death of my daughter didn’t phase Him. They are merely physical footnotes to the story of my life.

We opened with a Brennan Manning quote. He observes that life with Jesus will involve being torn to pieces and such.  He will not complacently love us, He just isn’t fond of you because you’re sort of a likable person.  His love is rough, and savage and furious.  He is quite tempestuous and intractable.  He won’t let go.  Your issues are probably not as significant as you think.

If you’re depressed, manic, paranoid or delusional you can still surrender to Jesus.  These are not your identity, they are not permanent. Yes, I get depressed and have incredible issues with anxiety.  I have a hand tremor almost all the time.  And I can get really paranoid.  But, I am his follower–first and foremost.

Let Him love you today.  His kind of love will heal you completely.

He will seize you and draw you close. You will find the rest you seek leaning on Him.

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, NLT

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”

 J.I. Packer

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The complete text of the “Hound of Heaven” can be found at:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/

Without a Wound? [True Ministry]

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The subject of “the pool at Bethesda” alludes to the following excerpt from the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”.The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4, but it changes the end of the parable. I first encountered this excerpt within the book “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging“, by Brennan Manning.

The play tells of a physician who comes periodically to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to be the first in the water and healed of his melancholy when the angel appears and troubles the water. Everybody at the pool also hopes to be the first in the water and thereby healed of his malady.

An angel appears and blocks the physician at the moment he is ready to step into the pool and be healed.

Angel: “Draw back, physician, this moment is not for you.”angel1

Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

Angel: “This healing is not for you.”

Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed cannot be concealed from you.”

Angel: “I know.”

……………Interlude………………

Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”

Angel: Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.”

Later, the person who enters the pool first and was healed rejoices in his good fortune then turns to the physician before leaving and said:

“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour . . . my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”

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For me, this story has made an incredible difference and, because the message of this excerpt—“Without your wound where would your power be?“—carries so much meaning for me. As this has taught me that its through my weakness I can see others like Jesus does.  I believe, for me, it is slowly becoming my whole foundation for ministry.

&

ybic, Bryan

 

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Assurance of Salvation for the Mentally Ill

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 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs.

Romans 8:14-17, NLT

As mentally ill Christians, we are often a mixture of good and bad things regarding our faith.

  • The Good: we don’t have to be convinced of our sin.  We live in a broken world, and we’re pretty sure that we have formidable issues. We’re needy.
  • The Bad: our consistency fluctuates from day-to-day. We never know what our state of mind will be. Some of us have problems socially that hinders us. Attendance at our local church is hard.

From one day to the next many of us struggle. The existence of this ‘flightiness’ is painfully evident. And it is hard to maintain anything, much less spiritual things. But I believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes an allowance, but even pours out extra grace on the afflicted believer. The Lord loves His misfits.

But we must put no confidence in our flesh. We do bounce around; our salvation is not of our own doing. We must seriously commit to the promises in the Word of God.

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The engine must pull the other cars. We must look to the promises of God (the Bible) to stay on track. Both faith and feelings must come behind the engine. Some struggle a great deal because they are led by their feelings. Confusion will follow if we get the proper order mixed up.

  1. First facts (the Bible),
  2. then faith,
  3. and finally feelings.

The Word of God is our only safety. Even our faith is to be connected to the promises of God. For those with a disability, we are to link up to promises that God has made to us. When you encounter the truth we’re to hook up through our faith to them.

Read the Word: Psalms or the Gospels. I also draw much strength in the Book of Romans, chapter 5 through 8, especially.

We have been adopted by the Holy Spirit as sons and daughters. We are deeply loved by God Himself. He has gone and made us ‘heirs’ without any of our effort at all (Romans 8:14-17). These are examples of taking up the promises by faith. We are a people in need of stability. What God gives us is His own constancy. Read the Word, fresh just for you.

 “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”

2 Peter 1:4, NLT

“In the darkest of nights cling to the assurance that God loves you, that He always has advice for you, a path that you can tread and a solution to your problem–and you will experience that which you believe. God never disappoints anyone who places his trust in Him.”

 Basilea Schlink

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