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.
The 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.”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
“These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
Matt. 20:12, NIV
Matthew 20 irritates me. People are working the entire day, and along comes people who have only worked for one hour. This discrepancy drives the believer nuts. How in the world could such a thing take place? It is foolishness to us who insist on a ‘grace of appropriateness.’ We want grace to be fair, recognizing the person who has worked very hard.
The problem is that God is outrageous with His grace and love. He completely expands us to a point where we must embrace a grace that is completely beyond us. We have to break down and accept what is available to us. Grace completely dumps us upside down.
We can only proceed if we accept His definition of Grace.
Those who have labored the least are made equal to those who work the hardest. This seems incredibly unfair and we revolt against such extravagance. It strikes us as outrageously unfair. How can those who worked only an hour receive the exact same amount as those who have labored a full eight?
The miracle of this shockingly outrageous grace is that we are confronted by a profound freedom. We basically get brought to the point where we get stripped of these illusions and need to walk out the scripture. It has the tendency to eliminate the issues that could block us and bring us to a most receptive position.
“But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you. Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day? Take your money and go home. It is my wish to give the latecomers as much as I give you. May I not do what I like with what belongs to me? Must you be jealous because I am generous?’
16 “So, many who are the last now will be the first then and the first last.”
We must admit that God’s grace reaches out to everyone.
That He has the deep, deep desire to see that each of us connect with His love. This is indeed the radicalness of the gospel. It is outrageous and astonishing. That He would love us who have hated Him. Our sense of equity is completely undone. His grace completely turns us upside down. I think that is a good thing.
“The right word spoken at the right time is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl.”
Prov. 25:11, New Century Version
I’ve been thinking about this particular verse for years. I had an older translation and I couldn’t decipher it. It is really good to understand what you have just read.
This verse tells us that there is a certain cadence– a timeliness for just the right word. There is a proper sense, a beautiful art in making the situation perfect. The wisdom comes in a conversation, and suddenly everything makes sense. There is a elegance that’s shared by everyone, and a dignity that the Holy Spirit bestows on our words. We only have to ask Him to bless what we say (or write.)
People speak wrong words as well. Rather then edifying, they tear down. Thirty years ago a Christian girl I was working with would always try to counsel me. Soon, I had enough of it. I walked up to her desk and said, “Becky (name changed), God has given me a word for you!” She looked up at me and smiled. ‘It’s Judges 16:16’, she got out her Bible to read the verse I just had given her. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.”
I absolutely crushed her spirit. I had used the Word to assault her like a blunt instrument. Tears welled up in her eyes. It would be a time before I sought her forgiveness. I was hard and brutally used the Bible to purposefully hurt her. I do not suggest that you do this. I will never forget what I did. Oh man, did I ever learn.
That day I would learn the awesome power of my words— for good, or for evil.
Let us also decide that our words will bring life to those who we meet today– wise and encouraging words!
This is one of the perils of being a writer. I know what I want to say, but seldom am I understood. It comes as a part of the job description and it chafes.
Actually, many experience the same thing. We desire clarity but end up misunderstood. I believe there are quite a few people who can relate to this issue.
We are “communicators” by nature; some do a bang-up job of it, others, not so much. Being misunderstood is the norm of many.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
The book of Proverbs speaks directly on this dilemma. Healthy words cut through the fog and bring light and hope to others. I’m guessing that we shouldn’t want to sound profound, but humble and gentle and gracious. Wisdom fits in here also.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Here we read of people whose rash words are compared to a sword thrust. They jab and cut. They are malicious and hurtful. I seem to do this far too often.
Others have the opposite outcome. Their words bring healing. I have known people like this. There seems to be a “superpower” to what they say. They don’t say things to sound profound, yet healing seems to follow them around.
Words are powerful; they pierce or they heal. I want what I say and write to have a healing effect on others. I must remember that the tongue speaks only what is in the heart.
Give us true hearts, O God. I want to carry healing to others.
“Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps Or stumbles along the road Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt Or struggled beneath his load There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, Though hidden away from view Or the burden he bears, placed on your back, Might cause you to stumble, too.”
“Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today Unless you have felt the blow That caused his fall, or felt the same That only the fallen know. You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, if dealt to you In the self same way at the self same time, Might cause you to stagger, too.”
“Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins Or pelt him with words or stones, Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, That you have no sins of your own. For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice Should whisper as soft to you As it did to him when he went astray, ‘Twould cause you to falter, too.”
“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”
Romans 2:1, NLT
One of the spiritual diseases endemic to the Christian believer is “fault finding”. For some reason, (and I’m still trying to figure out why), is we have a strong inclination to pass a judgement on people (those whom Christ died for!) We don’t throw stones (far be it from me)– however, we certainly do and will point fingers. And perhaps we feel that its our religious duty, or maybe even our ministry (!).
Almost always, there a sense of certain and attainable righteousness. or our generated holiness involved. This should not be dismissed or overlooked. Because I believe I am right, and have religious grounds, I put all of the “evil sinners” on trial, and then I pronounce my verdict. (And they certainly deserve whatever I decide.)
Much of the same type of thinking was used in Romans 2. Paul castigates those who were judging others. He goes on a scathing and sizzling rebuke directly at those who were destroying others by their overly-righteous attitude.
” And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?.”
Without a doubt this whole subject is highly complex and nuanced. Hundreds of verses should be worked through. But this blog is not that place. However, I will advance this– I read this written by the Desert Fathers.
“Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no one else. For truly it is written: ‘Is not those inside the church whom are you to judge? God judges those who are outside’.
Macarius of Alexandria, 296-393 AD
A Simple Poem of a Quiet Wisdom
Pray, don’t find fault with the man who limps Or stumbles along the road Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt Or struggled beneath his load There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, Though hidden away from view Or the burden he bears, placed on your back, Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today Unless you have felt the blow That caused his fall, or felt the same That only the fallen know. You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, if dealt to you In the self same way at the self same time, Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins Or pelt him with words or stones, Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, That you have no sins of your own. For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice Should whisper as soft to you As it did to him when he went astray, ‘Twould cause you to falter, too.
(I found this poem– it’s unattributed, but known to God)
This is redacted from an earlier post, but fresh, and thoroughly worked over.