Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mental Illness and Christianity

I came across a blog, http://evangelicalinthewilderness.blogspot.com/ that shares my view on mental illness. I thought I would share a little snippet. I have lots of thoughts on this, of course... But I will leave you to your own for now.

If our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, fears and behavior are simply controlled by our moral choice, then, one would assume that if you have obvious mental illness it is sin because you have chosen to think badly.

Evangelicals love this paradigm, especially if their mental health issues are easy to hide. The reason is, they can look as someone suffering from, say depression (and they don’t have depression), and feel better about themselves. They like to think that they don’t have depression because they have more faith, pray more and etc. On the other hand, the one who does have the problem starts to feel more and more guilt because they too start to believe that their mental illness is simply a result of their bad choices.

One of the biggest movements in Evangelical psychology was Nouthetic Counseling. Basically the word Nouthetic means a type of confrontation. You confront the mentally ill person and get them to repent (or cast out the demon) and presto, they get better. In my personal opinion, and I was a great advocate for this movement for a couple of decades, is that it is pure bullshit. It has done a lot of damage to people whom god loves and gave his son for.

But in reality, mental health issues are based in the organic, concrete, brain. Even if the mental illness, such as PTSD, is a function of nurture . . . it becomes nature because the physical brain actually changes under the influence of extreme stress. I won’t go into that here.

So a better paradigm is realizing that these so-called invisible or spiritual attributes are founded in the physical (the incredible brain which God has made) then the approach has to be different. It is different because some disorders, just like a congenital heart defect or lameness won’t magically go away with a simple cure. So, baring a supernatural miracle, on the order of raising a stone-cold, decaying body from the dead, a schizophrenic will never be cured.But mental illness can get better and can, in most situations, be controlled. But it is more like redirecting a glacier than fanning steam. It is hard work. It takes a huge amount of energy and support and yes . . . often it requires medications.

The “steppers,” like Bill Gothard, are also a disservice to those who suffer from real mental illness. He has 5 steps to perfect everything. So, in his opinion, if you jump through hoops x, y and z your depression will be gone. So, in real life, when your depression does not get better then you have a choice of looking like a failure, or push your mental illness underground.

So in summary, while mental illness is a product of the fall, there is a very good chance that it has nothing to do with its victims’ moral choices. No one hates their mental illness more than those who suffer from them. There is not an infinite amount of disciplines that they would not do, steps that they would not take, to rid themselves of the disorder once and for all.

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