This I believe:
It is wrong to make someone choose between mental health treatment on one side and God and church on the other. I believe that God and church congregations, plus mental health treatment can help tremendously those who suffer from the debilitating effects of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxieties/phobias. Untreated mental illnesses cost people their jobs and interpersonal relationships. Untreated mental illness destroys marriages and families. It is also a great burden on our economy.
I come from a large extended family with dozens and dozens of members, several of whom have a mental illness. I also come from a family with a deep devotion to God, to serving in churches, and to helping others.
Over the years I have seen churches explicitly and implicitly tell their congregation that if they were “right with God” then they would have no need for psychotropic medication and counseling. I have watched as sick relatives have worked hard to regain their health, only to have it slip away from them after someone at church convinced them to throw away their medication.
The same church congregations that will make hospital visits, send food, and buy cards for a physically ill person will typically not even acknowledge the person with mental illness. Few come to visit the mentally ill person in the hospital. Sometimes it is not the church’s fault directly because sometimes families choose to hide their loved ones illness from the congregation.
My 18 year old cousin shot and killed himself three years ago. I was happy to see that many people turned out for his funeral; sometimes families don’t even have funerals when there is a suicide. Most of those who attended were regular church goers. I have wondered since how many of them would have helped my cousin seek and receive mental health treatment. I suspect that many of them would have only told him to “pray about it.” I agree. I believe that prayer is powerful and can significantly impact lives. I also believe, though, that the power of prayer would have been greatly enhanced by the power of modern medicine. What is so frustrating is that had my cousin broken his leg he would have been encouraged to pray, others would have prayed for him, and people would have encouraged him to go to a hospital.
I can’t speak for those people. Certainly some of them may have encouraged my cousin to seek treatment. I also need to make it clear that I continue to go to church, that I read my Bible, and that I do pray. I also hold conservative values. I just wish that people could share their mental illness with their congregations the way that they share other troubles and receive help accordingly. There are Amish congregations that support their members’ attempts to seek psychiatric treatment. I wish that most American churches could be as advanced as the Amish on this issue.
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