The first full week of October (which begins this Sunday) is National Mental Health Awareness Week and Tuesday, October 9, is the Mental Health National Day of Prayer. Not something that gets a lot of coverage or attention. But it should, especially in the church. Of all the things misunderstood and mishandled in the church, mental health issues have to be near the top of the list.
While I don’t think this forum is the right place to say much about my personal or professional (pastoral) experience I can certainly say that mental health issues have clouded both. I have known many people who struggled with mental health concerns. No, that’s too cowardly – people whose lives have been overshadowed, overwhelmed and even destroyed by mental health problems. Often these struggles were seen by others as something else – physical illness, weakness of character, lack of faith, in need of more prayer, etc. Anything but a mental health struggle.
But these things are real and they are not always solved by the things people suggest. Even well-meaning people of faith. Prayer is important… crucial… life-bringing. Other spiritual disciplines bring light and goodness into our lives and minds as we place ourselves on the path where we meet God. But just as people sometimes need physical therapy to get heal a physical injury, some people need psychological therapy to find inner healing. Some people need medications to live well (like me — I need insulin), so some people need medications that correct chemical issues in their brains.
As a person of faith I believe faith makes a real and even physical difference in our lives. And for people who are in therapy or taking medications for mental health conditions, I believe faith makes life even better than these things do. But some conditions need helps that faith may augment but cannot replace. I hope people of faith can learn to see mental health issues more clearly and compassionately and correctly.
Our Creator has wired us so that our pain tells us when things are amiss. Inner pain is a teacher and an alarm. Like physical pains that tell us something is wrong in our bodies so do our mental pains – especially when they are long-running and overwhelming – tell us something is wrong inside. And pains that can’t be seen are as real and sometimes even more debilitating than the physical, outer one’s.
The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) has a faith communities page that may interest you if you are reading this blog…