“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)

flourishx

Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.

*** 

In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and  ultimately meaningless.

For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.

I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.

All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.

During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.

bad-times-333-300x250How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?

I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.

And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.

But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).

This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.

flourish1

“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Copanion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

 

cropped-cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

When Kings Wear Chains

chained-hands

“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains.  He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”

-Richard Wurmbrand

Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’  The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom.  It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave.

The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive. (It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste!) I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.

Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times.  But it is a question of identity.

As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?

and…

Royal blood was spilled to set me free.  Is choosing to sin really in my calling?

Added to these concepts are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression.  Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe.  All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion.  Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’

My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’  My suicidal tendencies are often intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved.  I become chained and held captive  to these dark forces.  Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help.  But they are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness. What does work are:

  1. prayer, as intimate as I can make it
  2. reading the Word, searching for insights
  3. and fellowship, anything more than a handshake

There is a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence more-than-life itself?

Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do, they will remain.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1, ESV

*bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

When Does Depression Become Sin?

The Bible is plumb full of commentary on depression. King David experienced intermittent times of intense depression.  He was a man who had to work through a great deal of it, and we can see that he succeeded in breaking through into freedom.

Would David today be treated with antidepressants?  Could he have been treated at a mental hospital? (I honestly think the answer is “yes” to these questions.  He was definitely devastated by depression at certain times.)

There is no question he experienced both spiritual and physical depression.  But I believe that David teaches us that depression has a spiritual component in our fallenness.  It has to be treated holistically, covering both the physical and the spiritual.  It’s like having two hands injured but only treating just one of them.

We need to discern the difference between:

  • depression caused by guilt (sin)
  • depression caused by a medical issue (organic)
  • depression as a reaction to a trauma or loss (reaction)

This is key. These all can be working at the same time (and very often do).  But there will only be a partial release if there is only a partial solution. The three can overlap each other. Any of the three can be the predominant kind of depression.

The points below deal primarily with “guilt” or “sin depression.” (I’m not qualified to speak out on the othe1) Confession of sin may free us from certain issues of depression.r two.)

 13″If you don’t confess your sins, you will be a failure.  But God will be merciful if you confess your sins and give them up.” Proverbs 28:13   (CEV)

 2)  The story of Cain and Abel reveals the issue of “angry depression” taking over a person’s actions.

“6The LORD said to Cain:

 What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? 7If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling.  But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!”  

Genesis 4:6-7  

3)  David was depressed until he confessed his sin of adultery with Bathsheba.

3“When I refused to confess my sin,
      my body wasted away,
      and I groaned all day long.
 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
      My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Psalm 32:3-4 (NLT)

4)  The way out of depression caused by guilt is confession and seeking God’s forgiveness. 

 5 “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
      and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
   I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
      And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

  1 Oh, what joy for those
      whose disobedience is forgiven,
      whose sin is put out of sight!
 2 Yes, what joy for those
      whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
      whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” 

Psalm 32:5 , 1-2

5) If you are a Christian and are experiencing “moderate-to-heavy” depression, I would encourage you to seek out medical help.  Medication may be helpful to get through this rough time, and talk therapy can be a life-saver.  If your depression is caused from guilt, it will NOT get better, until you deal with it in the presence of God.

RedcrossNow I’m not a physician, nor is this post medical advice. If you are experiencing thoughts of depression and suicide seek out help immediately. Call 911 right now.

Your regular doctor can guide you to a good psychiatrist which may help.

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1-2

From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

&

Choosing a +Christian+ Counselor

 Written by “Holly,”
“In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”

Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?

Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?

1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?

2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.

If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”

Ephesians 2:19

The Problem with Secular Counsel

Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven, seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.

There is wisdom and truth from godly counsel:

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”

Psalm 37:30

Find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.

If Possible, Find a Specialist

You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Coping with Stress
  • Depression
  • Divorce
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional trauma
  • Family therapy
  • Financial difficulties
  • Grief
  • Loss
  • Major life changes
  • Marital discourse
  • Mental illness
  • Pain management
  • Parenting issues
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Pre-marital counseling
  • Relationship conflict
  • Religious doubt/ confusion
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual/ intimacy difficulties

The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen year old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.

Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.

Seek a Licensed Professional

Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who has completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.

Remember that most counselors employed by churches are Professional counselors, but few are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, should have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)

Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session

Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming from can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.

Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.

Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:

  • What is your Christian counseling approach?
  • Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
  • Will they work with your psychiatrist and or doctor?
  • What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
  • Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
  • How do you integrate the bible into your counseling sessions?
  • How do your incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
  • Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
  • What is your payment structure?
  • Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
  • What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?

If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.

Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.

Recap:

Educate yourself about the various types of Christian counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help your gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.

 

cropped-cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

 

Taken from a great website for believers with issues:

http://www.getoutofthestorm.com

One Strange Trip, [Honesty]

Pastor Bryan Lowe

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6, CEB

I was ‘saved’ in my early twenties.  With that salvation came a sense of what really was true.  And perhaps a real hope of what life could become.  I’m  now 55, I can only shake my head.  It certainly has not been as rosy as I first thought.  I blame myself, and go on to understand that maybe this is the way it was supposed to turn out.

But my walk with Jesus has been real.  I haven’t given up on my pitiful faith and I haven’t apostatized.  And yet I am aware of a confusion, and  a disconnectedness that is a bit odd.  I sort of realize that my soul has been hunted, and that I’m vulnerable.

But I can’t let go of Him who I call Savior.  It certainly has not been easy.  Sometimes it seems that I am perhaps the most troubled of all His followers. I’m sure some of you might understand.

You see, I have a disease called “loving Jesus” from which know I will never recover.

The promises that have been given to me can’t be diminished or revoked.  He has dedicated Himself to reaching me.  I’ve been told that He not only plucks me out of my darkness, but His intention is to heal and balance me.  My confusion is not enough to sidetrack His will.

I don’t know what my future holds.  But to be honest, I don’t anticipate anything magical,  or some fantastically creative spirituality.  I do not think things will suddenly get bright all of a sudden.  But I can tell you this much, that I will never turn from His grace or goodness.  I hang on them as a shipwrecked man clings to a log, out in the middle of the ocean.

I am most unorthodox, I know.  I do not fit the mold of the average believer.  I am too blunt, direct and disconnected. I have considerable issues, compounded by my mental illness. But I do know Jesus.  He has come to save the broken-hearted, and come as a physician to a very sick soul.  I trust Him to fix me. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes us:

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

It seems we stand on the threshold of a real and authentic life.  For some, we must work especially hard to understand  this walk of authentic discipleship.   Unquestionably, we must trust in His love.  But being stable and established will not save us. (Although, it would be nice). Salvation has always been by grace through faith.

My dysfunctional life doesn’t incur His rejection, the opposite is true.  He loves losers, and looks especially on losers who know they are very lost.

I especially want to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with a mental illness.  You’ve been dealt a severe blow.  Others will never understand your “limp.”  But Jesus does. You have a gift to bring to the table.  He can pour much more grace into you.  Don’t be discouraged by the resistance coming out of your thinking.  You are especially His.  He holds you with a transforming love.

1brobry-sig

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (3)

*

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

*******

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

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (1)