How do we reconcile the fact that mental illness exists alongside evangelical beliefs that the burden of sin brought about the pain and suffering of the human condition? Are we less Christian if we have a mental illness? Do we hide the fact that our child suffers from mental illness from the church, fearful that we will be “judged” as poor parents as a result of the truth? Is the Church the last frontier in the fight against the stigma of mental illness?
Merriam-Webster defines stigma as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something”. Is it so difficult to accept that mental illness is a condition that requires treatment?
For the faithful, its important to remember that Jesus, “the Great Physician” spent most of his time with people who were not considered the most healthy and respected. He spent a great deal of time among the poor, the sick, the “sinners”, as many were called, that lived amongst the righteous.
He ministered to everyone’s needs, no matter how insignificant they were thought to be by others. Shame was rampant when it came to sickness, and the sick were often hidden from the rest of the community. When word got out that Jesus was in the area, people brought the sick out into the open, often the outcome of a great deal of trouble doing so. He continued to heal them because of their faith.
How is it that in 2013 we continue to hide our mentally ill, recoil from them, treat them as people who, if only had enough faith would be healed from mental illness? Jesus and his disciples healed others with the gift of Divine healing. We seem to be so very comfortable with the healing hands of God working through modern day physicians trained in the practice of medicine when it comes to broken arms, flu, viruses, and more serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Serious mental illness such as clinical depression, certain anxiety disorders, Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia are examples of neurological brain disorders. We do not pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and “get over it”. That’s one of the “negative” and “unfair” beliefs about mental illnesses that are by definition, stigma. The truth is it takes treatment to manage the symptoms of mental illness.
Does seeking help mean we lose sight of our faith? Hopefully not. Is there a place for faith in the process of treatment? Most definitely. Prayer is a powerful tool in the process of recovery from any medical condition. With serious mental illness however, prayer is a part of a holistic approach to healing; that is, attending to the whole person, mind, body and spirit.
For many people in the Christian community, the first stop on the way to obtaining help for the disabling effects of mental illness begins with a visit to their minister, pastor, priest or spiritual advisor. Clergy have been trained to recognize the difference between a spiritual struggle and a mental health crisis. Once that assessment has been made, a referral for mental health services is often facilitated. Take them seriously. Call for an appointment at (334)329-7155.