“The bad psychological matter is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.” C.S. Lewis
Last semester, I changed my major to human services, addictions, and counseling. Through this change, I have been completely submerged into the topic of mental illness. I have recently learned the ins and outs of some of the most common mental illnesses that are plaguing millions of people today. It has easily been the most interesting and heart wrenching learning experience of my life, and I have many more years of learning to go. But you do not have to be in psychology classes to know about the mental health issue that our nation is currently going through. The overwhelmingly negative stigma about mental illness afflicts this country.
Not too long ago, a post from Huffington Post popped up on my Facebook feed about mental health. The title of this post was: “What If We Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?” This brought up a really great discussion point. Many people who do not suffer from a mental illness tend to think that diseases of the brain are easy to fix. If you have ever studied the brain, you quickly come to realize that they are not. The way we treat individuals with mental illness needs to change.
The prevalence of mental illness is incredibly high. One in four Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental illness. Chances are you are going to interact with someone who has a mental illness at least once a week. Heck, you might even have a friend or family member that deals with a mental health disorder. Now that we’ve established the fact that you will talk to someone on the daily, it is important to establish how we can help change the negative stigma that surrounds these illnesses.
43% of people believe that people bring mental health disorders on themselves. Again, if you have ever studied the brain, you will know that this is not true. Mental illnesses can be caused by a variety of things such as chemical imbalances, brain abnormalities, and genetic predispositions. It is dangerous territory to blame the individual for their mental illness. In the Huffington Post article, blaming someone for depression is like blaming someone for having the flu. You don’t do it. Period.
Another issue that I have seen a lot of is mental illness and the church. As soon as I started this post, a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder posted an article on Relevant Magazine named “4 Misconceptions about Mental Illness and Faith”. Some Christians feel uncomfortable talking about mental illness because they feel weak or less of a Christian because of what they are dealing with. 34% of individuals consider mental health disorders to be caused by sinful behavior. This statistic only increases the negative attitude that churchgoers everywhere have. We need to change our mind about mental illness. Jesus died on the Cross-, not to remove pain, but to give us a kind of hope to deal with the pain. Anybody with a mental illness, Christian or not, needs to remember this. It is also important to know that God’s miracle healing can come in the form of medication or psychotherapy.
It doesn’t matter what the statistics say or what Americans think about mental illness. We have a lot of issues with lack of treatment options, not knowing the cause of specific disorders, and no known cures for any of these illnesses. But for us, there is not much we can do about that unless we go into neuroscience. For us, we can fix another problem. Our problem with mental illness is the way we treat those with mental illnesses. We need to treat them with empathy, not disapproval and most importantly with love and not hostility. No matter what you believe about mental illness, the least you can do is show some compassion. Hey, that’s what Jesus did.
Jesus loves people with mental illnesses and he loves you too!