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We Need a Better Response to Mental Illness

We can either bless or curse people who need us

This friend also described the way she sees her ongoing need for counseling:

Long before any of this was a part of our journey, people said, "Therapists shouldn't be necessary. If you pray hard enough and you seek God hard enough, you don't need a counselor." And now, having been in counseling for years myself, I realize a lot of things I wrestle with, they're not spiritual issues as much as they are dysfunction that has been ingrained in me since birth. I need to unlearn those things. So I don't see them as spiritual issues; I don't see them as sin issues. I see them as things I need to learn how to do differently.

When "just have faith and pray more" doesn't work, the mentally ill are shamed and alienated even further. They're also discouraged from seeking treatment, convinced by their churches that their ailments must have a spiritual solution—which remains elusive. This is the work of Pharisees, about whom Jesus said, "Practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don't follow their example. For they don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden" (Mt 23:3-4).

This is not the work of Christ, who said, "My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light" (Mt 11:30). He does not hold himself out of our reach. He does not hide his peace and demand that we always work just a little harder to find it. He comes to us when we aren't even looking for him, woos us with unconditional love and powers our lives with new strength and supernatural peace each day. He erases the past and gives us hope for the future. He deigns to use us—all riddled with sin and bleeding with shame—in his holy work. He gives us reason to live—the only reason actually worth living for. And all we have to do is come to him like children. May we grant this astounding truth to all suffering people.

I spoke with a NAMI educator whose job is to reach out to her community, helping people understand mental illness and providing the support they need. In nearly a decade of work, she has been discouraged at the lack of participation among churches, which has been a main area of focus for her because of her Christian faith. As she has reached out to churches and offered to help them better minister to people with mental illness within their congregations, most have been uninterested. She described her sadness over

people within the church, attending Bible study together, staying quiet because of fear. I know that a percentage of them experience depression or other illness, but they don't know that about each other because nobody has decided to share that. If they did, they would probably feel so much comfort. But the church, I think, leans toward that perfection—everything's fine, everything's okay—instead of the real message of Christ: I show you my scars and you're attracted.
July11, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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