Approaches to Mental Health are not Enough
Modern psychological and psychiatric approaches to mental health, particularly the use of drugs like antidepressants and antipsychotics, don’t address the complexity of the human mind. Indeed, they haven’t reduced the prevalence of mental health issues—major depression, for example, has remained at around 4 percent between 1990 and 2010.
A Bone Fracture & Mental Illness
I sense that mental illness resembles a bone fracture. Bones have remarkable durability, but also, once broken, can rapidly heal and be reset. With normal daily use, one might never be aware of past problems. But a healed bone may or may not be as robust as it was before the break. A vulnerability still remains, the constant potential for a repeat fracture, which is why caution is always necessary.
Depression, and indeed the whole gamut of mental illness, is so varied that generalizations are rarely helpful. It can strike at almost any age, individuals from all walks of life, temperaments and ethnicities. It is no respecter of the divisions that bedevil human society. Sometimes there are obvious causes or triggers; often, there are none at all, its roots perhaps lost in the remotest strata of our genetic inheritance.
Sometimes the affliction disappears as mysteriously as it arrives. It can stop people completely in their tracks, perhaps becoming so acute that it leads to periods of hospitalization. For some, it is mercifully brief; for others, chronic, but somehow compatible with a semblance of normal working life. For me, it has been an ongoing, ever-present consciousness, a constant ache with occasional stabbing pains. I don’t have great highs, though occasionally I envy the thought of them (until I remember that, for friends with the likes of bipolar disorder, these can be just as hard to navigate as the lows).
The Difference Between Jesus and Mental Patients
Some years ago I received a letter from a young man I knew slightly. ‘I have just made a great discovery,’ he wrote. ‘Almighty God had two sons. Jesus Christ was the first; I am the second.’ I glanced at the address at the top of his letter. He was writing from a well-known psychiatric hospital. There have of course been many pretenders to greatness and to divinity.
Psychiatric hospitals are full of deluded people who claim to be Julius Caesar, the prime minister, the president of the United States or Jesus Christ. But no-one believes them. No-one is deceived except themselves. They have no disciples, except perhaps their fellow patients. They fail to convince other people for the simple reason that they don’t actually seem to be what they claim to be. Their claims are not supported by their character.
A Beautiful Mind Learns Discernment
Some of you may remember the film A Beautiful Mind, named after the book with the same title. The book is based on the life of John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, a brilliant mathematician and professor at Princeton University.
Aside from teaching at one of the best universities in the world, Nash participated in significant research, providing key contributions to game theory, just to name one. The core conflict in the movie was this: John Nash also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
That is, Nash would see characters and hear voices that did not exist. When he listened to the voices, they became destructive to his life. They could turn him into an egomaniac by making him feel like he was the center of the universe or they could also prey upon his deepest fears and make him suspicious of his loved ones.
Treating this condition is extremely difficult, because the voices heard and the people seen are as real to patients suffering from this disorder as actual people. You have to convince the person that their own faculties of sight and sound are impaired, that they cannot trust them, and have to resist the urge to engage them.
Eventually Nash would regain much of his ability to function in the “real” world, largely through new medicines that cut down on the intensity of delusional episodes. As helpful as the medicine was, it did not completely eliminate the voices.
Over time, Nash learned how to test the voices, to figure out whether or not they were real. In other words, Nash learned the art of discernment. He learned how to sift the unhealthy voices and listen to the healthy ones. In the movie version of the story he says this toward the end: “I’m not so different from you, We all hear voices. We just have to decide which ones we are going to listen to.”
Nash really isn’t that different from us, aside from the genius part (although I’m sure a few of you would qualify for that as well). We all have to practice the art of discernment. We all must discover what is real versus what is false, what lies the enemy tries to implant in us and what are legitimate blind spots we have in our character.
Stuart R Strachan Jr.
Mental Illness Creeps Up on Us
Which is mostly how mental illness works. You don’t know you have it until it’s all up in your grill trying to destroy your life. This happens, most often, because getting honest with ourselves about what’s going on in our hearts and minds is a difficult thing to do. So mental illness frequently goes undiagnosed until, well, it just can’t anymore because really weird things start happening.
… Addressing our mental health is more complicated than addressing other aspects of our health, especially for Christians. I personally put off seeing a therapist for ten years before I finally broke down and admitted I needed psychiatric help. I was convinced I could rid myself of anxiety if I prayed hard enough, read my Bible long enough, and served other people sincerely enough.
But there’s a secret I’ve discovered that gives us the power we need to enter this conversation with the honesty required for it to be helpful. Do you want to know what it is? You. Me. All of us. Are in this together. And together we can see this thing through. I am not speaking as Moses from the mountaintop but rather as an Israelite from the valley below. I may be a mental health professional with expertise to offer, but I am first and foremost a cosufferer who knows how painful and difficult battles with mental illness can be.
Mental Illness Around the World
According to the World Health Organization, one in thirteen globally suffers from anxiety. In the United States, one in five adults have a mental health condition. That’s over forty million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Almost 75 percent of people with mental disorders remain untreated in developing countries, with almost one million people taking their lives each year. Studies also reveal that loneliness has become an epidemic affecting over half the population in the United States. Those numbers are staggering. In the Independent, Alex Williams writes, “Anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition, too: a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media.
The Three “Christs” of Ypsilanti
Milton Rokeach wrote a book entitled The Three Christs of Ypsilanti….there were three patients in that hospital, each of whom thought he was Jesus Christ. One was too far gone in his psychotic isolation to be influenced by the other two. But Rokeach describes in fascinating detail how the other two, slightly less psychotic, came to terms with each other’s Christological claims. Actually, they constructed an “ecumenical” theology to accommodate these claims.
The Natural Responses to Adversity and Experiences of Life
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress are all ways of describing natural human responses to adversity and the experiences of life. And we all face adversity in many different ways: challenging events and circumstances are as much a part of modern existence as they were a part of human history.
Calling these mental and emotional responses diseases misses the point entirely. Anxiety, depression, burnout, frustration, angst, anger, grief, and so on are emotional and physical warning signals telling us we need to face and deal with something that’s happened or is happening in our life. This pain, which is very real, is a sign that there’s something wrong: you are in a state of disequilibrium.
It’s not a sign of a defective brain. Your experience doesn’t need to be validated by a medical label. Mental health struggles are not your identity. They’re normal and need to be addressed, not suppressed, or things will get worse.