What do you think about mental illness?

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


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About Steven Sawyer

God blessed me with the gift of writing. Mom told me I wrote paragraphs in second grade when others were learning to write sentences. I spent more than three decades in professional writing gigs. For the past eight years I've combined my passion for writing with my love for the Lord. He and I write a Christ-centered, family-friendly blog to glorify God Monday-thru Friday at https://stevensawyer.wordpress.com/. My wife and I have four grown children and two precious granddaughters we co-parent with their mom. I'm a Galatians 2:20 disciple of Christ seeking to allow Christ to live His life in me, through me, and as me.

6 thoughts on “What do you think about mental illness?

  1. Howdy Steven!

    Good article on mental health and drawing our attention to an important issue in our society. I don’t think the responses of Christians when confronted by mental illness are limited to them. Most people, I think, react in similar ways.

    Mental health disorders are painful. They are massively disruptive and emotionally painful for the individual and the family to cope with. If we can at least start there as a point of departure, we might develop more empathy for those afflicted.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. From personal experience, I can say that the thing they need most is for the rest of us not to judge them. So many do not understand how mental illness can manifest physically, and as you’ve said, the sufferers are often labelled unfairly and treated condescendingly.
    Someone very close to me suffers from depression, and my first instinct is always to want to fix things, but I ended up causing more damage that way. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t fix this, and that In the end, all this person needed from me was understanding, and support. “I’m here” and giving this person the necessary space to deal was all that was necessary.


  3. My husband has bipolar disorder, type 2 without schizotypal tendencies. He is a professional nurse who is extremely successful in his career, yet is a handful at home. He was approached by his pastor before his diagnosis was made known, and told he needed to pray more in order to deal with his problem. He told his pastor that he was trying a new medication and the pastor was horrified by that. He actually said to stop taking the medicine and just pray more authentically. We both tried to educate our pastor about mental illness; that my husband has a chemical imbalance in his brain that causes the problems and the pastor was completely closed to hearing it. I hope (and pray) that more religious leaders will educate themselves and stop insisting prayer and “good living’ will be the end all of the problems when it comes to dealing with a mental illness.


  4. I love this post. Because the stigma is very real. I know, I had my own stigma about bipolar disorder before I was diagnosed and initially when I was I was vehemently in denial that it could possibly be me. I actually do not talk about it or share it with anyone, only a few family members even know. The blogosphere has been a safe place for me to talk about it and for that I am grateful, although sometimes I even hide from it when I am struggling because my illness speaks louder than my posts I think. But love and acceptance is what we need. And to be fair, it’s very difficult for someone – even one who cares for you – to really understand the aspects of mental illness so they can tend to feel helpless and therefore shy away from having to deal with something they can’t comprehend, try as they might. So from one who who copes with it, the best advice I can give to those who don’t ‘know’ but have someone in their life who battles, comfort and compassion is the best you can give.


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