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This week's Bible Study - November 23, 2014


Ministry in the Face of Mental Illness

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7 

Quotes of the Week:
For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpetů and hoped that they would go away.
Richard J. Codey

The National Alliance on Mental Illness answers the question "What is Mental Illness" in the following manner.

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

In a Newsweek article of February, 2014, it was stated that each year, about 18 percent of the total adult population in the United States suffers from some mental illness. Many people deal with one or more different types of mental illness at some point in their lives, but the article states that as many as 4 percent of Americans from ages 18 and up experience "serious" mental illness. This type of illness can impede day to day activities, such as going to work. Other severe disorders may not be as noticeable, but can wreak havoc in other areas of one's life. It is important to realize that Christians are not exempt from mental illness. You likely know one or more people that are impacted by some serious mental illness that is debilitating to them, and you probably know many others who are impacted by different disorders.

How do you feel when you come into contact with others who have mental illness? Given that there are so many instances and types of illnesses or disorders, it would seem that we should learn how to respond in a positive manner. Unfortunately, we often respond in ways that in no way show any concern, as we tend to look at symptoms and misinterpret them through our own lens of life. From a Christian standpoint, some will wrongly say that others are simply failing to trust God and will blame them for their problems, shaming them into silence. Some may wrongly say that others simply need to read the Bible and spend time in prayer. There are times when people legitimately need medical intervention or some form of counseling. While it may help to be able to talk to a friend about one's issues, amateur counseling can be detrimental in many ways. Sometimes we mean well, but we just don't know what to do and can actually make the situation worse.

From another angle, when you consider the statistics, have you ever considered if you or I were the one with the problem? I read a quote online that said if 1 in 5 had mental illness, we should look at four friends and if they didn't, chances are good that we might! We would prefer to think that we are all 'normal', but is there a definition of normal behavior today? One person's normal is not necessarily another person's normal, as our personalities and the way we handle life is often shaped by our life experiences (which can be wildly divergent). Several people have taken the DiSC« behavioral assessment, which centers on four different personality traits (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness). These assessments easily identify that 'normal' is relative.

If you were to take the time to look at personality disorders, you would likely find that there is at least a hint of abnormality in all of us. Disorders encompass many different personality traits. We may each have some symptoms of these traits, but it is the intensity of those symptoms and how it impacts day to day living that qualifies as a disorder. The website, Out of the Fog identifies many different disorders and it can be very eye opening to see the various symptoms of different types of disorders. Recognizing disorders and treating them can have a positive impact on the life of a person who has a disorder and all of those who are around them.

In this lesson passage, we see of the suffering that all of us must deal with in life, and how God provides peace and comfort in the midst of suffering. In the context of this lesson, we need to realize that there is a very wide range of potential mental illnesses and disorders that may require many different responses from us as believers.

( 2 Corinthians 1:1-4 )

Paul was the author of both 1st and 2nd Corinthians, as well as a number of other books in the New Testament. The recipients were believers, not only in Corinth and in that region, but it also applies to believers today. Just as in other letters penned by Paul, he wishes them grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In a similar manner, as we have written this and other lessons to those who read, we wish you the grace and peace that can only come through Jesus Christ.

Paul turns everything back to God, and in verse 3 he refers to God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. God is truly the source of mercy and comfort in our lives. We tend to seek comfort from all different kinds of sources. We may look to other people in our lives or we may seek external help, such as counselors or physicians. Each of these may provide some relief, but God is the one who truly comforts us in our afflictions. It may be that God uses others to comfort you, as He works in many ways to comfort each of us.

In going through any significant ordeal in life, it is beneficial to speak to someone else who has been there before. If you've lost a job or dealt with an illness or had conflict in your life, you will find more help in talking to someone who has had experience in the same areas. Similarly, if you are either personally dealing with, or have a friend or family member who is dealing with a mental illness, it can be beneficial to get support from others who have experience dealing with the issues and challenges associated with similar illnesses.

There are situations in our lives where we need the help of professionals and we readily seek their support. For example, if you break your arm or leg, even though you know that God is the great Physician, wouldn't you still go to a doctor to get it set? With the exception of a few groups who avoid medicine altogether, we can agree that from a physical standpoint, doctors and hospitals are essential components to being a healthy individual. We need to broaden our understanding to realize that it can be very helpful (and perhaps necessary) to seek assistance when you have difficult times in your life. When you are dealing with deep depression or any situation that you have a hard time handling, a counselor can help you cope and manage, which may provide relief. At times, it just helps to hear another perspective of your situation, so you can perhaps understand how others may be viewing that situation. Certainly, if you have some type of disorder, a counselor may not only help you treat your symptoms, but can point you to other resources that can help you deal with your issues in a more positive manner.

( 2 Corinthians 1:5-7 )

When we think of what we have in Christ, we think of the eternal life and the forgiveness that we have been given. We know that we are not deserving of either of those immense benefits He offers. When we think of the suffering that we deal with in this life, we may often think that we don't deserve that either. There is the thought among many that being a believer means that you will experience a charmed life and that you will avoid pitfalls. In many ways, when we are dealing with mental illnesses, perhaps by watching a close friend dealing with schizophrenia, we often question why that suffering is allowed by God. However, we share in the suffering of Christ, in many ways. In Philippians 3, Paul counted all things as loss in order to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings. We need to face the fact that we will suffer in this life, in diverse ways.

But, the news doesn't stop with suffering. We also share abundantly in the comfort through Christ. God allows us to endure suffering, in part so that we can know what it means to be comforted. This comfort allows us to patiently endure our suffering. I wish that I could say that we deal with suffering patiently at all times, but we know that there is a limit to our patience. However, even when our patience is gone, God can give us peace in the midst of our situation.

Closing

In researching aspects of mental illness, I came across an article entitled "Lies Christians tell about Mental Illness". You can find the article here

Here are the lies that are mentioned.

  1. God doesn't give you more than you can handle. While this is intended to comfort, it actually lays an ugly guilt trip on the person suffering.
  2. Daily prayer and bible reading alone cures mental illness. To say that mental illness can be cured by spiritual practices alone discourages Christians from getting the mental healthcare they need to treat and manage mental illness.
  3. Depression is a sin, a curse, or demon possession. To talk of a person's mental illness as a result of a sin, curse, or demon possession is to further stigmatize, shame, and isolate the person.
  4. If you loved Jesus more you would be happier. This belief denies the reality of clinical depression in a person's life. Jesus loves all people, including people who have all sorts of mental illnesses. Loving Jesus more is something we all strive for as Christians, but not because it will make us happier.
  5. You can't be a Christian if you have a mental illness. The truth is that Christians are humans, just as sick, broken, and in need of healing and wholeness as everyone else. A Christian with mental illness can find compassion, support and love from a community of faith.
So, what if you have a loved one or friend that is dealing with mental issues? Obviously, for those who are dealing with severe mental illness, help is needed to ensure that they are treated appropriately. We need to be reminded that they are individuals for whom Christ died. However, we all know people who are dealing with difficult life situations, which may result in stress, depression or other symptoms. We also may know others who have different personality disorders. There are a few things that may be helpful, as we deal with them. It helps to have better information, and often, some research will help you understand their situation better, so that we can nurture compassion and connection with them. For those who need help, we should encourage them to seek treatment that can provide help. We need to understand that doctors and therapists can help, but people still need a loving community. We need to acknowledge our own limitations in helping others, but there is no reason why we cannot be friendly and kind to others with all types of problems, as well as supporting them.

There may be times where we see those who may present a threat to themselves or others. In that case, authorities may need to be called to prohibit a situation from getting even worse. When you notice that your own health and well being is impacted, it may be necessary to draw boundaries and to be consistent in enforcing them. There are many resources, including a book by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend, called "Boundaries" that can help you identify how to draw boundaries if this is necessary in your life. Realize that setting boundaries may not seem to 'help' resolve a situation at first, but it is important that you take care of your own health in difficult situations.

As we write this lesson, we realize that many people are impacted my mental illnesses in all different kinds of ways. If you are a friend, a spouse, a parent, a child or in some other relationship with someone who has either a diagnosed mental illness or the traits of personality disorders, you know that life can be very stressful and difficult. It can begin to cause problems in your life, as you try and understand how to deal with them most appropriately. We know that God cares for all people and that He can provide peace, but if you are in a situation that you cannot handle, you need to seek help. There are doctors, counselors and therapists that can provide some help. Realize that ministers and friends can help along the way, but when you need more help, please seek it. Our hope is that this lesson has provided some resources so that you can understand the prevalence of mental illness and personality disorders, so that you can seek help when needed.




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