How should Christians respond to mental illness in other Christians or in their own life?
Mental Illness Stigmas
Perhaps the best way to look at mental illness is the way you look at any other illness. Often the illness is not self-induced, so people are frequently an innocent victim of their circumstances. With mental illness, this too is not usually self-induced, and like any other illness, there is a physiological cause for it. It could be a simple chemical imbalance in the brain, it could be from some unknown cause like an undetectable aneurysm, it could be from a brain injury or deformity at birth, and so, we cannot look at mental illness as some character flaw or defect, looking down on those who struggle with their mental illness, because no one is more unhappy about it than they are. Having been a former mental health case manager, I know these people are often looked down upon, stigmatized and stereotyped, but they are just like we are. We’re all broken. We are fallen by our sinful nature. It’s just that some will have different kinds of brokenness than we will. That doesn’t make theirs any less, nor does it make ours any less. The Australia’s governmental Mental Health Commission says that three out of four mental health patients have experienced prejudice or bias because of their mental illness. Would we judge someone inferior who broke their arm and sought medical treatment? We have no right to judge anyone who is experiencing mental illness, only pray for them and support them and treat them with respect and dignity, and as you would anyone else.
Mental illness is an equal opportunity finder. Just like cancer, it doesn’t discriminate, but neither does mental illness. Sometimes there are external factors that cause a person to develop a mental illness. Who knows what a child goes through who has been locked up in the basement for 7 years by their parents, so certainly, mental illness can be the result of extreme verbal and emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and living in fear. Some people do recover their mental health, so there is always hope. In fact, many of these patients do get better. Some go on to lead perfectly normal lives, and you probably couldn’t pick them out in a crowd. There are hundreds of thousands of success stories, just as there are hundreds of thousands of stories of people beating cancer. Even if there is no cure, mental illness can be treated in most cases, just as with any other illness.
Living with Mental Illness
Perhaps the best experts of all are those who live with mental illness, either in themselves or with one of their family members. Either way, it’s not easy. The person living with the mentally ill family member can suffer nearly as much as the person who has the mental illness. The person with the mental illness is often aware that their illness is affecting their family members, which serves to make them suffer even more, but again, there is hope, and this hope comes from educating ourselves on mental illness. There are practical ways we can deal with mental illness, either in ourselves or others, because doctors can now give patients more hope than before since newer research has brought us different techniques to use and apply in our lives or in the lives of others.
For the Christian who lives with mental illness, faith in God plays a huge role in their life. Everything else might seem shaky in this world, but not the Rock, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If ever there was a need for an anchor in the stormy harbor of life, Christ is that anchor. He is greater than the Rock of Gibraltar. He’s the Solid Rock, the Bread of Life, and the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is all and in all, as Paul wrote, “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17), and He can hold us together too when things seem to be falling apart. If God is that “third cord” that is not easily broken in our life (Eccl 4:12), we’ll be better able to bear things in this life. That’s because we have hope in this life because of our life that is to come. This should help us to endure the present suffering, knowing “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18), and no matter what’s happening in our life, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). It is possible that some mental illnesses are due to spiritual struggles since we are complex in design. We are all a remarkable connection of spirit, soul, body, and mind, however, if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse toward that person. Christians can sometimes assume there is something else to it; some deeper spiritual struggle causing their mental illness, but we are in no position to judge that person. God alone knows their struggles.
I had hoped when writing this to help us better understand how to deal with mental illness in us, in our families, in our communities, and in our churches. There is so much misunderstanding about mental illness, and it’s not been helpful to those who struggle with it. They have suffered from unnecessary shame and guilt. Let us give room for mercy to others and allow God to use their struggle to strengthen their faith. For us, we can pray for them, support them, and encourage them. And let us not judge or stereotype them. Not one among us is exactly the same. We are all broken cisterns, and only God can restore us. It may not come in this life, but that’s okay, we live as Jesus did in joyful expectation of what lay ahead. Let us keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). When we see our Lord for the very first time, it will be the end of all suffering, sorrow, pain, death, and illness of any kind. The greatest of these is being in the presence of the Lord, and seeing His face for the very first time (Rev 21:3; 22:4).
Take a look at these tips as well: 5 Ways to Cope with Mentally Ill Family Members
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.