by Patrice Horton MA, LPCA, NCC, March 27, 2016, Mental Health
I recently came across some comic strip captions that illustrated the difference in how society at large tends to view and address the mental verses physical health challenges of individuals. Initially I chuckled within but upon further reflection I wondered how many of us are or have been guilty of downplaying our own as well as the emotional needs of others. Then I began to realize that the disparity in how we perceive and treat individuals with mental illness is no laughing matter, and flat-out disheartening. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults (approximately 61.5 million Americans) experiences some type of mental illness in a given year. Also, approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent. In addition, serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year; and mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44. These statistics definitely indicate that mental illness is no laughing matter and can no longer be ignored or minimized by society let alone the church.
So while the comic strip highlighted the distinction in how we view peoples mental and physical health issues in a humorous way, it also gives us some very important things to consider. One being, why is it that we tend to be less compassionate and empathic towards those who suffer from mental illness by making statements like “they need to just get over it” and “stop complaining.” Or even worse, why are we dismissive of our family and friend’s emotional challenges by perpetuating the idea that mental illness doesn’t exist or better yet that Christians or people of faith don’t have these struggles and are somehow immune from experiencing mental health problems. The Bible is full of people who faced all sorts of adversities including things like depression and anxiety, and yet they still managed to do great things for God. I believe it is crucial for society at large but especially for the church to be more mindful of the ideology that we propagate with regards to mental illness, it causes and treatments. Also considering the frequency of mental illness, remaining silent or failing to respond are not viable options. So you may be asking yourself, what are some things we can do as individuals and as people of faith to respond to the needs of individual impacted by mental illness. I believe we must: 1. Get educated (develop a basic knowledge of mental illness), 2. Recognize the opportunity to help and be ready to respond (many times people turn to the church for help), 3. Teach about suffering from a theological perspective (let people know God hasn’t abandoned them), 4. Offer referrals (the church must recognize when they are in over their heads) and 5. Be the Church (provide ongoing spiritual care and a loving community). “Above all, we must recognize our calling as Christians to follow the example of our Savior. In Jesus’ ministry on earth, no one was outside of the margins of His notice. No one was unworthy of His attention, too sick for His healing, or too dirty for His touch. Jesus loved to surprise those who were usually ignored by noticing them. He loved to heal the ones everyone thought were beyond hope” (Amy Simpson,2016 p.68).
Simpson, Amy. (2016, March). The Church and Mental Illness; we are called to care. Christian Counseling Today, 21(2), 64-68.
The National Alliance on Mental Health. Mental Illness Facts and Numbers. Retrieved from http://www2.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf
BuzzFeed Health. Physical Illness vs. Mental Illness // BuzzFeed Comics