That’s how many of us have been treated for some kind of mental illness. Many of us, it was probably some rather minor, temporary thing. Others have much more serious situations. I’d be surprised if there were many of us who don’t have some kind of connection or family history that includes some sort of mental illness.
Thanks to recent events, mental illness has also become a national topic of discussion, though it seems to be getting trumped by guns right now.
And yet, for as important a topic as mental health is, the church is just not doing a very good job addressing it. As I searched for what church leaders are saying about mental health, it became clear that the church is not having the conversation it should. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary wrote last week about having Jesus, but sometimes just needing a Zoloft, and it was one of the most honest things on mental health I think I’ve seen a Christian write in a long time.
Why is the church losing the mental health discussion. I think I have a few ideas.
Quit Being So Depressed, Sinner
After the Sandy Hook incident, everyone was flippantly posting on Facebook and their blogs. And while many people were advocating for better mental health services, I saw more than one Christian post something to this effect:
“No pill will do what Jesus can.”
Look, we are all sinners. Shooting up a school is evil. What is happening in our society is shameful. But the implication is that mental illness is somehow different from other health issues. It’s not real. It’s just sin. And all mental health problems would be solved if sick people came to church.
We don’t tell people who have cancer that their disease is just sin. (Well, most of us don’t.) If someone was in a car wreck and his brain was damaged, we wouldn’t tell him his brain damage was sin. Yet, we often tell people with equally broken minds to snap out of it, that their real solution is Jesus.
This unbelievable stigma still exists in huge amounts in the church. I actually read one “pastor” who said that failing is not a sin. But becoming discouraged is a sin. (Great job, discouraging people who are already discouraged.) Reading that caused me an unhealthy amount of mental distress and rage.
It’s pastors like this who are probably causing a lot of Christians to become depressed.
The Schizophrenic Who Cried ‘Wolf’
We have a weird thing going on with mental health in our culture.
We are the most medicated people on earth. We pop pill down our kids’ throats left and right. Everyone wants to be diagnosed. We call everything a “disease,” (the correct word, if any, would be ‘illness.’)
I will admit, we’ve probably done quite a bit of crying “wolf” when it comes to mental health.
But just because we know we’re over-medicated, that doesn’t mean none of us are broken. It surprises me at times how resilient I can be. And it frightens me at other times how prone I can be to panic, anxiety, or depression. Our minds are just as fragile as our bodies.
But the church often misdiagnoses a mental problem as a spiritual problem (and our minds and spirits are not the same thing.) We boil everything down to good and evil. And then church leaders prescribe the same Jesus flavored pill for every problem. Well what if someone’s mind is getting in the way of their spirit? Can we just admit that we have other problems that we actually suffer from?
A lot of church leaders could make really good drug deals.
See, there are a whole lot of church leaders dealing out this “Jesus” who is really nothing more than a weekly anti-depressant. The people come to church and get their fix of mood lifters. But the effect wears off quickly. This is a child’s dose anti-depressant for people who aren’t really depressed.
In this kind of Christianity, it is not okay to admit that you are not okay, that you are depressed, that you are falling apart inside. That, God forbid, you need a pill. Because feel-good Christianity only has one prescription, and it doesn’t work on real problems.
The mental health situation in our society exposes feel-good Christianity for the fraud that it is. And it exposes the inadequate answers that much of the rest of the church has.
And that is why the church is losing the discussion on mental health.
What do you think? Have you experienced the stigma of mental illness in the church? Have you or someone you know been told to just snap out of it?