Our chapel theme at Cedarville this year is “Sharpening the Christ-Centered Mind.” How we use that mind is only limited by how diligently we pursue God’s truth. But have we ever stopped to think what our lives would look like if something was wrong with that God-given mind? What would become of our education and career, our interactions with family and friends, and — most importantly — our understanding of the Gospel?
Though we may not find ourselves in that scenario, millions of people are not so fortunate and are affected by many varied mental ailments. According to a recent National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) that analyzed about 10,000 subjects, over 20 percent of Americans are classified as having a mental illness (not including those with drug dependencies). The realization that 1 in 5 people are afflicted by a mental illness should cause us to recognize the importance of this issue.
However, what is perhaps more pressing than meditating on that statistic is truly considering how we view mental illness. Thankfully, society has advanced from the disturbing days of when the mentally ill were made spectacles for public entertainment or were kept in chains or cages. But have we actually distanced ourselves from humanity’s trend to respond to the unfamiliar with harmful ignorance?
In the religious sphere, one of the misconceptions most detrimental to the mentally ill is the belief that mental illness is mostly a matter of spiritual warfare. While not impossible, when physical evidence of an imbalance in brain chemicals is as evident as that of a broken bone, it is foolish and inhumane to impose a mistaken, guilt-ridden generalization on already-struggling victims. When our thoughts turn to blame of others before taking an open-minded approach to helping them, we know we need to have a transformation in ourselves before we can expect to help others.
Christians ought to be the foremost proponents of helping the mentally ill through science and medicine. If our faith is “assurance about what we do not see,” how much easier is it then to believe the empirical evidence that has emerged in the field of psychology? Not every one of us will become a psychologist, but we all need to be well-informed enough to respond to the pain of our fellow humans by acting out of love and referring them to a helpful source.
Just think about the prevalence of mood disorders and how those plagued with them can be so misunderstood. Too often I have seen believers distance themselves from people who show melancholic tendencies, and neuroticism is viewed as something that should not be present in a Christian’s life. People with proven mood disorders don’t just “need more Jesus” in their lives — they need medical treatment. It’s like looking at a starving person and handing them a Bible instead of food.
Fortunately, many of us have gotten beyond the mistaken views of mental illness and have a servant’s heart for these people. We have seen the suicidal situations and the tearing apart of families, and have witnessed the harmful behavior that comes with a wide variety of mental afflictions, and we long for these people to be healed with peace. To get involved, you can familiarize yourself with organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (go to www.nami.org to check it out).
Since this problem affects so many in society, we do not necessarily need to search for it. More people than we realize are dealing with these issues. Mental illness is an ever-present issue ready to be positively impacted by those who demonstrate love and understanding.