Breaking the stigmas about mental illness

Alex Miller, Vision Magazine writer 

Photo credit freeimages.com

Photo credit freeimages.com

Every week Christians walk into churches seeking peace and healing. However, those who enter churches with mental illness often find shame and guilt awaiting them where welcoming arms would normally be.

Statistic show that 18 percent of the world’s population suffers from depression. For the victims of depression and other mental illnesses, it is a daily and forever fight. For Christians with mental illness it’s more than just the illness, but the guilt of struggling despite being a Believer.

The most common approach by the Church is to Band-Aid everything with Jesus, but this mentality only hurts victims more. But when Bible study and prayer don’t have magic effects, the person is left feeling even more ashamed. Essentially the Church’s efforts are counterproductive. The last thing you tell people who hate themselves is there’s one more thing wrong with them.

Steve Bielby, student counselor at North Greenville University, said the Church often ignores the mentally ill because of fear and misunderstanding.

He said, “You can’t just say, ‘The answer for you is Jesus.’ If that person is, say, borderline personality disorder, that isn’t going to fly. That may be part of the issue but they need a whole lot more.”

According to Bielby, with the advancement of scientific research, there’s no excuse for poor treatment of the mentally ill.

“Now we have a better understanding of the contributing factors such as chemical imbalance of the brain or environment,” said Bielby.

In 2013, Lifeway Research did a study which showed over half of Christians believe mental illness can be cured by Bible study and prayer alone.

Bielby said, “It’s an approach that leaves out the other dimensions of your being: your physical, your emotional, your social, your psychological and your spiritual. You’re all of those things together.”

Someone who is depressed may not have the best prayer and devotion life, but what about the fact that they only sleep three hours a night, eat junk all the time and have trauma in their past they haven’t dealt with?

If the Church desires to branch out from the stigmas created by the media and Hollywood and how actual compassion for the mentally ill, it must adopt a holistic approach. You don’t have to have a doctorate to help someone. The most important thing to remember when dealing with the mentally ill is their humanness. They are image bearers of God and every single one is unique. Therefore, there is no cookie cutter approach to addressing mental health.

These people are in need, not of our uneducated diagnoses or spiritual judgments, but rather our unrelenting love and pursuit of their well being, whatever that looks like.

With the unhindered efforts of the Church to lock arms with these victims, we can make their lifelong battles a little less uphill. 

Editor's Note:  The Vision magazine, our sister publication, is on stands now.  We are publishing shortened versions of some of the best Vision magazine articles, so if you're reading this over the summer, be sure to pick up a copy when you return in the fall to read the entire story.  Our magazine's theme for Spring 2016 is "Branching Out" and you can read about how NGU students are doing just that in this and other stories we will be publishing over the summer.