Many of CT Senior Writer Tim Stafford’s early images of mental hospitals came from his wife Popie’s experience in East Africa. Between 1978 and 1982, the Staffords lived in Kenya where Tim worked under the auspices of Youth for Christ to found and then edit a Christian magazine for youth. Popie, who held a master’s degree in psychology, was teaching counseling classes to pastors. In her spare time, she volunteered, helping to start a counseling center and linking up with a Catholic priest and a nun who ministered to patients at a local mental hospital.

The patients at that institution were often undermedicated and otherwise undersupplied. The hardships combined with their disorders to produce classic psychotic behavior. Popie told her husband of women who would grab at her as she walked down the hallways, people who thought they were someone or somewhere else.

American psychiatric wards are different, Tim knew. But the contrasts to his mental images from Kenya were striking. “I wasn’t prepared for how ordinary they seemed,” Tim says. “You really can’t tell the staff from the patients. There is no bizarre behavior or bizarre ideation. There are deep-seated issues, yes; but it is simply a calm place you can go to work on issues without interruption—a kind of indoor summer camp for people with serious problems.”

No longer nervous about psychiatric units, Tim says he would “be more scared walking the halls of many city high schools than visiting these units.” From the business success experienced by the new Christian-operated in-patient units, it seems that many American evangelicals also are no longer worried about what they might find inside a psych unit—indeed, no longer fear the stigma once associated with psychiatry. Beginning ...

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