This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Are you aware of mental illness? Do you know someone, or do you know a family, impacted by mental illness? Do you know someone who has a loved one with a mental illness diagnosis?
Research tells us one in four families deals with mental illness in their family. A member of our immediate family suffers with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Families who don’t deal with mental illness are not often sympathetic towards families who do. In fact, many families dealing with mental illness find themselves isolated from, sometimes abandoned by, friends and even family members who don’t understand the illness or care to. The stigma of mental illness infects virtually all family relationships. This stigma often bleeds over into the work place, the family’s church life and social life.
Mental illness is a brain disorder. It is an illness just like cancer or heart disease. They don’t know the causes and there is no cure. Some folks with mental illnesses live extraordinary successful lives. Others are not as lucky. Regardless of the degree of mental illness those suffering from its symptoms and effects can manage the illness with proper medications and the correct diagnosis.
Here’s how church folks often respond to someone with a mental illness:1
- Interpret their behavior through the lens of our own experience and assume their symptoms mean they’re selfish, lazy, self-absorbed, undisciplined, or simply failing to trust God.
- Distance ourselves, hoping that something —prosperity, clean living, more faith, a strong family—separates us from them and guarantees we are not vulnerable.
- Ignore them and hope someone else will help.
- Reject them.
- Fear them, usually with no rational basis.
- Blame them for their problems and shame them into silence.
- Tell them to go get help and come back when they’re “cured.”
- Try to cure them with spiritual practices like Bible reading and prayer, which by themselves are inadequate for people who need medical intervention.
- Try to solve the problem with pat answers and unhelpful advice.
If we are the Church of Jesus Christ our obligation, our outreach, should be to families struggling with mental illness. These families are experiencing loneliness, depression, and severe isolation. They need our understanding. They need our connection. And they desperately need our love.
Will you step up and reach out?
1Responses documented in Christianity today