Towards a Christian Perspective on Mental Illness
This is a difficult subject to address, because of its complexity and highly personal nature. Everyone is affected by mental illness; either personally or someone they love. People you care about have experienced depression, ADD, addiction, bipolar, or other mental health struggle. For you the phrase “mental illness” may be a safe haven of explanation, a label that carries stigma, or a mystery that is hard to understand.
This is why mental illness is a subject that must be discussed in the church; otherwise, our silence hurts people by leaving them to struggle in isolation. How does the mind relate to the body? How do our emotions relate to our faith? These are important questions that everyone grapples with and are essential to holistic discipleship.
This is merely an attempt at “a” Christian perspective; not “the” Christian perspective. I believe there are others who, based upon personal experience, professional expertise, or doctrinal background, can and hopefully will add to this discussion. My desire is to start a conversation rather than speak the final word.
This presentation is a “perspective on” more than a “response to” mental illness. Christians have a response to sin, injustice, and other moral matters that we oppose and seek to eliminate. Christians have a perspective on politics, calamities, and other experiences in which we want to influence or offer care. My goal is to influence conversations about mental illness in the church and, thereby, equip us to be more skilled at caring for one another.
For the moment, I will defer an attempt at defining mental illness. At this point, it is enough to say that it is a term on which even the experts disagree; that this is a large part of what makes this conversation difficult. When the central term in any discussion lacks a clear definition, the rest of the conversation will always be challenging.
Let me state one important assumption before we begin; an assumption that I anticipate most readers want to know in order to determine whose “team” I am on or what my “agenda” is in writing:
I am assuming there are a relatively equal number of people who avoid getting help (i.e., counseling or medication) because of the stigma of mental illness as there are people who use the labels of mental illness as a crutch to avoid taking responsibility for important choices in their life.
Whether the two groups divide into a neat 50-50 split in the culture at-large or in your specific circle of relationships, I believe it is generally agreed that there are a large number of people in both camps. Too often, discussions like this one are intended only to change the perspective of one side of the issue. This, I believe, biases those presentations.
My attempt is to be balanced by acknowledging both sides. This will make some parts of the presentation more tedious as we examine questions from both sides. One-sided presentations have the advantage of being simpler and clearer. But, in this case, the result of being one-sided would make the presentation simplistic.