When you are dealing with any kind of mental health issue, dealing with the church is pretty tough. It’s bad enough modern health care for mental health is one step up from leeches and blood letting, but the church for the most part is still in the dark ages with no sign of moving forward, (Or acknowledging there is even an issue which needs to be addressed).
They can easily help the poor, bring sinners to Christ, feed the homeless, but when it comes to assisting those of us dealing with psychotic and neurotic disorders they are more then ill equipped. Reading through the bible doesn’t help much either. Where is the passage about bipolar and schizophrenia? Which scripture tells me how to deal with ADHD!!
Talking to anyone pretty much goes like this:
“Don’t worry, let God handle it, turn all your woe’s over to him. It’s not working? Well then YOU must be doing something wrong. Maybe it’s sin, you must repent, it’s easy. Trust us, you will feel better once you just do what you need to do, and God will make it alright! Do you feel better yet?”
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2
I have never before, ever, heard someone in the church tell a diabetic to repent of their sins, or told someone newly diagnosed with cancer that God will make it alright if they just turn all their worries over to Him. In fact, the treatment most of us with mental health issues receive in the church at large is appalling, it is insulting to my intellect (which is quite high, most likely due to my bipolar).
The Christian Church struggles with legalism at every turn. This is an easy formulaic crutch to fall back on when you don’t know the answer and really can’t be bothered. Some churches more then others are plagued by the disease of legalism, and the area of mental health is ripe with it’s fallout. There is stigma and isolation, and more blame thrown around then on an adulterer or divorcee, and more confusion then the entire gay marriage issue and the role of women in the church put together!!
Suffering from bipolar disorder I have felt the shame and isolation from my fellow christians. I can honestly say I have received far less judgement and a greater amount of support from my non-christian friends. (I have also found great redemption and understanding in some amazing christians, and I have also been isolated and ridiculed by non-christians as well.) My point in this: The church is failing the mentally ill.
People like easy answers, and solvable problems. Mental illness is not always dealt with in an easy straightforward manner which can be precisely replicated in each patient. Due to my own lack of understanding and an extreme lack of support and blame, I left the church for many years. It was not until I fully understood my illness that I would make my way back to the church. It was a very personal journey I had to undertake, a journey the church in general could not comprehend.
Please note it was the church I left, I never left God or the hope I had in him.
“For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.” Deuteronomy 2:7
The church is a large institution, and as a whole is probably not ready to deal with the very tough issues of mental health and all it’s complexities in modern day society. If you are a christian, struggling with these issues I implore you to not give up. God is not the church. People are wicked, ignorant, and sinful, and they will hurt you. But God is greater then all of it, you just have to have faith.
Learning to live with diabetes is hard, but people do it every day. Learning to live with a mental illness can be done. Learning how to deal with the church may be a life long struggle for you, as it continues to be for me. I can give you some encouragement though.
First of all, before anything else, you need to educate yourself on your illness and seek professional help from a doctor or psychiatrist. There are a lot of stances out there different christian groups espouse about mental health, but it is still very important you at least talk to a medical professional even if you do not wish to take medication. It is important you know what you are suffering from so that you can coherently speak to others about it.
Also, and even more important, it is crucial to identify the weaknesses you are suffering from so that you can go directly to God in prayer. Regardless of what causes mental illness, be it generational sin, the enemy, or simply genetics or life events, getting to the root cause of your symptoms is very important. The medical and psychiatric community can help you find some of these answers.
Secondly, you need to take everything you have learned about your symptoms and yourself to God in prayer. Approach Him directly, boldly, consistently. Mental illness at the very least is utterly overwhelming for anyone, you were never meant to go through this alone. During the times of struggle we tend to wander away from God, Don’t! Just don’t! You’re going to do it anyways, but when things go from bad to worse, look around and realise that you need to run back to God’s protection!
Here’s my final thoughts on this today: Mental illness sucks and christians often behave like rabid animals eating their young, but God really is greater then all of it! God made you perfect just the way you are. He has a unique purpose for your life, even if you or Mrs. Perfect in the front pew don’t yet see it. A church is a hospital for sinners, not one single person in any church, anywhere in the world, is even remotely close to perfect. Have the courage, and draw on the strength of the Lord to overcome your battles. Maybe God gave you this illness so that you could be the one to change the attitude and stigma in your christian community.
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.” Psalm 61:1-3
I would love to hear about your struggles with other christians, and ways you have found to overcome.