For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Amy Simpson.
Amy Simpson is editor of Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership and author of numerous resources for Christian ministry. Her latest book is Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission (InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter: @aresimpson.
Today we chat with Amy about the difficult subject of mental illness and the Church's response:
What prompted you to write about and study mental illness in the church?
My family was affected by mental illness. My mother has schizophrenia, which had a profound effect on our family, especially when I was a young teenager. Like many other families, we stayed pretty quiet about what we were experiencing, and we didn't receive the support we needed from the church. My dad was a pastor for 10 years, and after that we were involved laypeople. But many people didn't know what was happening. And the church leaders who probably wanted to help us didn't know how. No one ever talked about mental illness at church.
In my own pursuit of healing, I worked to understand my mom's illness and how it affected me. I started learning about how common mental illness is. I read about other people's experiences and realized how similar they were to ours. I grew to understand that the church's lack of engagement was affecting many more people than just my family. God began to nudge me toward writing on this topic as a ministry to others. As I was planning an article for Leadership Journal, the editor and I felt it would be valuable to survey church leaders and find out about their experiences with mental illness. And later, as I was writing Troubled Minds, I interviewed several people because I wanted to represent more perspectives and experiences than just my own family's. But my family's experience was the starting point.
Recent tragedies such as the death of Rick Warren's son have raised awareness of mental illness among evangelicals. Yet we're still a bit hesitant to talk about it. Why is that?
Culturally, we have many historically based misconceptions about mental illness. Most people don't know enough about it to feel confident discussing it. And even now, brain science is still an emerging frontier. The causes and remedies for mental illnesses are not always known. So I think the sense of mystery around it, partly outdated and partly legitimate, intimidates people.
Most people also feel intimidated because they don't have the professional education and qualifications to feel confident in helping. But most of us aren't medically qualified to help someone with a broken leg or cancer either, yet we know we can offer our support. There's something about mental illness that often keeps us from offering that same kind of support.
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