This summer the Christian community was saddened to hear of the apparent suicidal death of Matthew Warren, son of mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Matthew had struggled with mental illness for much of his life and finally succumbed to its pressures. Additionally there has been a rash of pastoral deaths that also point to suicide. Add to this the shootings this year that were committed by mentally ill people and this all points to a need to re-consider how to most appropriately deal with mental illness. This is an issue that has been largely ignored by the Christian community in the past, but one that it is time that we start paying closer attention to.
There are two aspects of the church community that cause mental illness to stay hidden. First is the expectation that Christians have it all together. We are supposed to be more that conquerers in Christ. To admit that we have a problem that we can not solve solely through prayer and scripture reading points to a lack of faith which will be frowned upon by Christian friends. This is especially true amongst those in Christian leadership. They are expected to be a cut above the rest of us and to admit a weakness that they need to seek outside assistance with will shake our confidence in their ability to do their job. Because of this expectation we keep a superficial mask of ‘everything’s fine’ on when we face the world when underneath we may be struggling with issues that need care and attention.
The second aspect that needs to be considered is the assumption that mental illness is a symptom of demonic possession or oppression. This is certainly a very real possibility. But the body mind and soul are interconnected and to discount the idea that there may be biological and chemical components at work in our physical and mental well being is a faulty assumption. Prayer to bar demonic activity from our lives is important and should be applied. However, there may be a point where other therapeutic actions should be included as well. To admit that the brain has a chemical imbalance that keeps a person from functioning in a normal and healthy way should be an aspect considered by the Christian community and not something that is stigmatized.
With well over one quarter of the American population struggling with some form of mental illness at some point in their lives there will most certainly be Christians who will suffer from this problem. To ignore their needs by creating a culture that either says the problem does not exist, is not important, or is only a spiritual battle to be fought with prayer and faith is neither loving nor Christ like. And with the issue coming more into focus due to increased media scrutiny perhaps it is time to reevaluate how we approach the battlefield of the mind.
For further exploration on the issue check out the links below.
For statistics and explanations of types of mental illnesses check out the National Institute for Mental Health here.
For different ways Christians respond to mental illness read this article by Frank Viola here.
For an article on ways the Christian culture encourages dangerous understandings for mental health click here.
For a view expressing the need for balance between sacred and secular resources for mental health click here.
For an explanation of what therapy is and the stages it goes through click here.