Blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock is hosting a “broad conversation about faith and mental illness” and last week I responded to his question about the way my own faith community has historically viewed mental illness, and how my own faith shapes my views of it. This week Warnock touches on the very sensitive subject of suicide.
Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?
In my 20+ years as a believer, I have found it very difficult to nail down what Christians truly believe about salvation, let alone suicide. There are Christians who believe in “once saved always saved” theology – there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and even fewer Christians seem to know what that means. There is another set of Christians who believe that if you renounce your faith and walk away from God, you absolutely can lose your faith. I can only assume that ending your life – which, if you believe in Christ, is no longer yours but His – would fit into the category of renouncing your faith and walking away from God to this particular group of Christians.
I don’t believe religious faith protects against suicide in every case. Certainly, for many it does. But mental illness isn’t really about faith, and that’s why this conversation is happening and why this blog exists in the first place. Wow, don’t you wish you could just believe yourself out of faulty brain? Lots of people seem to think you can – ha, if only!
My official stance on this issue is simple: I’d rather not find out. But God knows the difference between someone who just decides to abandon Truth and someone who is truly afflicted with mental illness and can’t choose.
Here in Christian America, we love telling people that God has a “wonderful purpose” for their lives.
The Mental Health Grace Alliance published a blog post last week entitled 3 Frustrations of Mental Health and the Church; 3 Ways to Re:Think Church.
The post covers:
unfortunately, pastoral staff members grow frustrated when they don’t understand why their ministry methods are not working. In response, they unknowingly go into “religious default” mode, which places the blame on the individual, rather than the ministry. Like Job’s friends, it’s assumed that this hardship/ problem is due to the individual’s sin, weak faith, or demonic oppression. Then, the church often backs away. One pastor was dealing with a person diagnosed with a mood disorder. When the pastor didn’t see it go away, he said, “It’s because the sin issues of his youth are finally catching up with him … he just needs to will himself into better choices.”
This is the “biggie” that so many of us deal with. Sometimes it prevents us from seeking help because we already know what the reaction from others is going to be. In my case, these were things I believed about myself, but I didn’t realize other Christians would accuse me of them. How I was naive enough not to think that I will never understand. I have come to realize that I was never accused of deliberate sin or of being a bad person; when someone takes this angle with me, it implies that I have not surrendered my all to God. There is something I must be holding back from Him, and that is why I continue to struggle with emotional problems.
Spiritual Fix or Miracles … often times pastoral support will prescribe biblical counseling and intense discipleship to “overcome” or see “breakthrough”. Some will even insist on “deliverance” ministry or an intensive “inner-healing” ministry designed for immediate breakthrough. The idea is to have the individual do more constructive bible study, prayer, and intensive ministry for an immediate “breakthrough” to “overcome” … to “fix” everything. It forces the individual to “pray” or “believe” harder for a miracle breakthrough. We believe God can …
My friend, Amy Simpson, passed this along to me and today I want to pass it along to all of you.
From blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock:
The people who run Patheos have asked me to host a broad conversation about Mental Health including bloggers from across Patheos and beyond. You are invited to contribute by answering the question below any time this week. There are also two more questions which will follow.
Bloggers are asked to join in the discussion and answer the questions as they are posted. The first question is:
How has your religious community historically seen mental illness? – And how does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental illness?
Christians don’t have a good track record when it comes to mental illness. We used to assume that mental illness was nothing more than demon possession, and we banned people from church attendance and treated them like the devil itself. In all fairness, humanity, in general, does not have a great track record when it comes to mental illness. People fear what they don’t understand. But the fact that Christians’ reaction to people exhibiting confusing behavior was to treat them like yesterday’s trash is heart-wrenching and pathetic.
Understanding and acceptance has been a slow process for the Christian church. It still seems that while there have been major steps forward in most of society, the church continues to lag behind. Old habits die hard, old fears even harder. There are concepts in the Bible that have been twisted used to push mentally ill believers away (driving a herd of demon-filled pigs off of a cliff does not mean that’s how we should all respond to people with schizophrenia, and hopefully if you’re reading this you don’t believe that.)
My own church is a wonderful place that is on-board with modern-day medicine. They run a theophostic prayer ministry that I attended for some time, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they believed not only in the existence of mental illness, but in treatment. No pigs careening off a cliff for me. My church believes in …
Sorry for the week-long break, guys. I was not feeling well most of last week, so a hope round-up is a great way to start a fresh blogging cycle! First up…
Study: Believing in God Helps Treat Mental Health Disorders
I love it when science proves something I already know. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders says that people who believe in a “higher power” were more likely to see positive results from treatment. Researchers studied people with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other disorders and found that “those who expressed believing in God between “moderate” and “high” had better chances of responding well to treatment, while those who said the do not believe in God or only believe in him slightly had a doubled risk of not responding to treatment.”
It’s a little late for Wednesday’s Hope Round-Up, but this story gave me a lot of hope: Rick Warren wants what we all want – to urge educators, lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness … and support the families that deal with mental illness on a daily basis.
As you may know, Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide on April 5 after a long battle with mental illness. Anytime someone uses their personal pain to ease the pain of others, its a reason to celebrate and have hope.
This afternoon I found out that Pastor Rick Warren’s youngest son committed suicide and my heart just broke. (Rick Warren is one of the founders of Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step group I mentioned in my last post.) I was struck by the contrast between the joy I felt earlier in the day and the despair that young man must have felt in his last moments.
Everyone found out about the sexual abuse on my birthday.
A handful of energetic fifth-graders had gathered at my house for a slumber party. Man, my parents always hated those. Probably every parent who has ever experienced a sleep-over can understand why. The rented movies went unwatched; the girls were more interested in playing Truth or Dare. At some point, my mother said it was time to be quiet and go to sleep, but we never did that. We just giggled as quietly as we could inside our sleeping bags.
I had the most interesting conversation the other night on Twitter, and I couldn’t wait to blog about it here, but I had to give it some extra thought, first.
When someone starts talking about demons at Starbucks, my ears prick up. That’s my personality. I’m one of those people who listen in on others’ conversations at Red Robin, and I chime in on conversations at the grocery store. This guy – who leads a ministry with 23,ooo Twitter followers – said that if you need a cup of coffee to get going in the morning, you are an addict and you are possessed by demons. Apparently, the ratio is two demons per cup. Why two? Because God had told him so, that’s why. He addressed my skepticism by saying I needed to talk to God about it, and He would reveal the same thing to me.
Yeah, OK. I was just doing the math. Four cups of coffee a day… that’s eight demons. You’d think I’d be way more disturbed than I am at that rate.
He added that “the average Starbucks is filled with thousands and thousands of demons.” He might be right about that, but only because they charge so much. I wish I’d known I was buying $5 cups of iced Satan all these years. I would have completely switched to Dunkin’ Donuts.
The conversation took a turn and soon we were talking about depression and psychotropic drugs. God had told this person that those, too, were nothing but capsules filled with Beelzebub. Depression is a demon, he said, and we should be praying, not medicating. Demons enter the body through medication, too!
(Scribbling on a napkin…OK 2 demons per cup of coffee…that’s like eight…plus a demon per pill…that’s 11 demons if you include insulin…now we’re up to 13 demons. What about dietary supplements? How many demons are in an Omega 3 capsule? Cinnamon? What about the dreaded children’s Aspirin?)
I did what I shouldn’t have done – I told him that my medication was a gift from God, and that He had used it mightily in …
This post has nothing to do with gun control. The cartoon above is only to show how easy it is for someone to purchase a high-powered weapon compared to how easy it is to find quality mental health care.
Now here’s an all-too-familiar story that is frustrating, sad, and scary.
Pat Milam testified before a panel of law makers and mental health experts about his son, Matt, last week. Matt struggled with severe paranoia and spent most of your his young life going in and out of psychiatric hospitals. The facilities always released him after only a few weeks. During his last hospital stay, he told staff he wanted to kill himself and blow up his house. Even though he was still deeply troubled and his father begged the hospital to let Matt stay, they released him because Pat’s insurance would no longer pay for his treatment.
In October 2011, just a week after his release, 24-year-old Matt blew up his bedroom with gas and propane tanks and finally made good on his promise to kill himself, and he almost killed his parents in the process. Only after losing his son did Pat Milam find out that his doctor at Oschner Hospital wrote that Matt had an “extremely high risk of suicide or another bad outcome.”
Heaven help you – literally – if you need psychiatric help. It’s hard to write a blog that encourages people to get help if they need it when there is so little assistance to be had.
Where I live, the phrase “mental hospital” or “psychiatric facility” makes most people think of one particular place, and they almost always roll their eyes. I refer to it as the “conveyor belt of psychiatry” because they bring patients in, give them a patch job, and send them out the back door. They are known for medicating before evaluating. Sometimes they don’t even evaluate, they just re-prescribe. If you try to advocate for your own welfare and speak up about your concerns over, say, being prescribed a particular drug, you will be told to move along and find …
I believe in God even though I have never physically met Him. I have seen enough evidence of God to bolster my faith. I have far more faith in the supernatural than I do in coincidence. The things many people see as stuff that “just happens” fit too closely with the details of my life and background for me to write them off as random happenings. I also believe in healing, but I believe in it because I have seen it happen with my own eyes, in my life, and in the lives of others.
I believe that God could reach down right now and take my bipolar disorder away, if He wanted to. I don’t think that’s over-reaching. If I believe God created the universe, then it would be foolish of me not to believe He could take away this disease. I believe that if Jesus Christ walked into the room right now, I wouldn’t even have to ask for healing. I could reach out and touch Him and be done with this nonsense. There are denominations out there that don’t believe in modern-day miracles. According to their theology, all the miracles happened during Bible times and we’re on our own now. I respectfully disagree. I’ve seen God do far too much to ascribe to that belief system.