I’m going to “think out loud” a bit about a topic that I know only a little about, but I do have some experience with it: mental illness.
Many of us have been touched by mental illness in one way or another and I have a few personal examples:
- Many years ago, I worked with a person at Kodak who was convinced everyone in our department was conspiring with his ex-wife to cause him harm, although none of us had ever even met his ex-wife. He was becoming increasingly agitated, but Human Resources said they could not intervene unless he actually threatened someone. This increasingly tense situation continued for several months until the person was eventually dismissed in a general lay-off. It was my opinion that if the person had worked in the offices of management rather than on the production floor, he would have been dealt with promptly.
- My wife suffered through a bout of depression and had suicidal thoughts after she severely fractured her leg in 1984.
- My mom suffered from Alzheimer’s the last several years of her life.
- A close relative grew up in a household with a mother who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and did not take her medications regularly. The close relative dropped out of college last Spring due to anxiety and depression.
- A very good friend is going through a second divorce at the age of sixty-three. The situation has completely unnerved him. He contemplated suicide this past summer after his wife moved out. Although he is no longer considering suicide, he is almost completely debilitated by anxiety and depression. I’m reluctant to visit with him because every time we get together he talks about his woes incessantly, for literally hours on end. It’s the same “poor me” pity-party over and over and over, like an endless loop. Yes, I’ve interrupted him many times and told him he must “get a grip.” He acknowledges that and then goes right back to his loop. He has taken a wide assortment of medications and has seen therapists without much change. He stopped seeing a therapist because he says he can no longer afford it. My friend seems to “enjoy” being a victim and wallowing in his misery. He craves company (i.e., people who will listen to him), but his behavior is driving his family and friends away. The situation has “unnerved” me to some degree, which explains this post.
- I won’t go into detail, but I have seen situations within my extended family that included bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, paranoia, paralyzing grief due to the death of a child from a drug overdose, and obsessive-compulsive disorder including hoarding. These terms aren’t “psycho-babble,” but describe very real circumstances that I have witnessed personally.
There’s a lot of controversy about mental illness in Christian circles. There are some Christians who say most mental illnesses are actually manifestations of a spiritual problem. In other words, if a Christian is suffering from depression or anxiety, then their faith in/relationship with the Lord isn’t strong enough. While that could certainly be true in some cases, I also believe there are pathological/neurological/chemical bases for mental illness. Not only must a Christian with mental illness deal with the problem, they must also deal with the stigma and guilt of allegedly not having the requisite faith.
Psychology and psychotherapy get a bad rap in Christian circles and sometimes for good reason. There are cases where drugs are mis-prescribed or over-prescribed and people become dependent rather than dealing with the root cause of their problem. Psychology is based upon humanistic, godless principles that are often at odds with Biblical teaching.
I haven’t suffered from any debilitating mental illnesses myself, although I have experienced depression and anxiety at times throughout my life. One morning, I was listening to a show on (c)hristian radio and the host mentioned her friend who has Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of high-performing autism). The symptoms that were described actually fit me to a tee, but we get into trouble when we self-diagnose. I subsequently took a couple of online tests and scored extremely high for the syndrome. No worries. I’m doing fine with my quirky self.
When a Christian experiences some type of troubling mental/emotional problem, the first thing they should do is pray. They then might want to see their pastor before they consult with anyone else. The situation may very well be a spiritual problem that can be helped with godly counseling. If not, the pastor can hopefully recommend a qualified Christian therapist. Obviously, there are serious cases of mental illness that require immediate medical intervention.
Okay, I’m done “thinking out loud.” Comments are welcome.
Postscript: Our eleven-year-old, forty-five-pound dog has frequent anxiety/panic attacks which most often occur in the middle of the night. She will start crying and shaking for no apparent reason and jumps up on the bed to try curl up around my wife’s head. We’ve tried various vet-prescribed medications without much success (also, my wife is against “pushing pills on her”). I must get up out of bed and put her in an enclosed room where she barks and claws at the door until she tires herself out. Not a good situation at 2 a.m. during the work week.