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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Paranoia & Delusions

superhero_400pxDelusional disorder, (previously called paranoid disorder,) is a type of serious mental illness called a “psychosis in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.

People with delusional disorder experience non-bizarre delusions, which involve situations that could occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, deceived, conspired against, or loved from a distance. These delusions usually involve the misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences. In reality, however, the situations are either not true at all or highly exaggerated.

People with delusional disorder often can continue to socialize and function normally, apart from the subject of their delusion, and generally do not behave in an obviously odd or in a bizarre manner. This is unlike people with other psychotic disorders, who also might have delusions as a symptom of their disorder. In some cases, however, people with delusional disorder might become so preoccupied with their delusions that their lives are disrupted.

Types of delusional disorder

There are different types of delusional disorder based on the main theme of the delusions experienced. The types of delusional disorder include:

  • Erotomanic — Someone with this type of delusional disorder believes that another person, often someone important or famous, is in love with him or her. The person might attempt to contact the object of the delusion, and stalking behavior is not uncommon.
  • Grandiose — A person with this type of delusional disorder has an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity. The person might believe he or she has a great talent or has made an important discovery.
  • Jealous — A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that his or her spouse or sexual partner is unfaithful.
  • Persecutory — People with this type of delusional disorder believe that they (or someone close to them) are being mistreated, or that someone is spying on them or planning to harm them. It is not uncommon for people with this type of delusional disorder to make repeated complaints to legal authorities.
  • Somatic — A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that he or she has a physical defect or medical problem.
  • Mixed — People with this type of delusional disorder have two or more of the types of delusions listed above.

Basic Principles

There are no systematic studies on treatment approaches and results in Delusional Disorder. The patient’s distrust and suspiciousness usually prevents any contact with a therapist.

Hospitalization

Hospitalization is indicated if a potential for danger is present; otherwise outpatient management is advisable. Unfortunately, involuntary hospitalization may increase distrust and resentment and increase the patient’s persecutory delusions.

Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotic medication may be useful, particularly for accompanying anxiety, agitation, and psychosis. Because patients may be suspicious of medication, depot forms may be helpful. Although antipsychotics may have a good response, they are often only marginally effective for specific forms of Delusional Disorder.

Other Therapies

Other treatments have been tried (electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, and psychosurgery), but these approaches are not recommended.


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Helpful Links:

http://www.mentalhealth.com/rx/p23-ps02.html

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/delusional_disorder/hic_delusional_disorder.aspx

 

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A Sound Mind

2-Timothy_1-7

“A sound mind.” For some of us that doesn’t seem remotely possible. We’ve come to believe this is only true for others, maybe, but not me. As mentally ill people we seem to think that we shouldn’t be this way. Given enough time our illness becomes fused to our spirit and soul. We buy the lie and choose to live defeated. Only the Lord Jesus can break this chain.

Healthy thinking is a wonderful gift. That’s important to note. I can’t earn it; nor can I fabricate it. It must be simply acknowledged and received as a bonus. We must come humbly and broken. I suppose that is where we become the happiest and healthiest.

In 1 Timothy 1:7 we’re told that we have a salvation that includes:

  • incredible power,
  • love,
  • and a sound (healthy) mind.

These three are a gift from God. You don’t buy a gift, nor do you earn it. Rather it comes from Someone who loves you (!) and only wants to restore you. We may have issues, but the Spirit is sound and lucid. He speaks so we understand.

Afflicted people will find what they need from the Holy Spirit of God. Mental illness isn’t a death sentence. Rather it’s a grand opportunity for God to teach us about His power in the middle of our pain.

The healthy mind is one that is clear and life-giving. It is without any sick or crippling deficiencies. It’s a mind that is vigorous and robust. Those of us who struggle with a mental illness this is fantastically good news. And it maybe that you’re certainly impaired but even then you’re given a strength to use in service in the body. Everyone has a gift and calling.

There is nothing worse than fighting through muddled thinking when you’re having mental issues. Names, dates and memories disappear in the fog. It can be frightening. I know what it’s like to be afraid of one’s own mind. It seems like it’s trying its best to kill me. (Some of you can ‘read-between-the-lines’ and understand exactly what I am saying.)

My own experience is that the Holy Spirit is working, with my meds, to hold me in a good place. Just as a diabetic must take insulin, so I need to take my antidepressants. The brain is an organ that can get sick also. We live in a fallen and broken world. We are human and therefore vulnerable just like anyone else. (Somehow, we imagine better.)

Grace does heal many, but there are some who will find ‘weakness’ becoming their real strength.

The very presence of the Holy Spirit is what enables. Broken believers are coming to see that their illnesses are helping them to be weak enough for God to use. It’s not how strong you are, but it’s how weak. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5, NLT.

Here are two thoughts that have helped me out:

“It’s the reality of our broken, flawed lives which is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.“

— Michael Yaconelli

bizen-kintsukuroi-tea-cup-1 (1)“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold [‘kintsukuroi’]. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

–Barbara Bloom

 

aabryscript

 

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