I moved to Central Louisiana in 1995 to work for a State Government agency that advocate for the mentally ill. All my life, I have always wanted to speak up for those who have no voice in our society and to do some good to make our world a better place. I knew in my heart that I can make a difference in the lives of the mentally it through the practice of law. But I must admit that I never thought about the role of the Church in mental health until I became the Pastor of a local Church. Today, after representing the mentally ill in and outside the court for Nineteen years, I am strongly convinced that the Church may well be the last hope for the mentally ill.
Who are the mentally ill? They are people who have mental disorder that has caused sustained abnormal alteration in their thinking, mood or behavior. Also, the mentally ill includes people who are suffering from distress and impaired functioning. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 25% of all adult in the USA have mental illness and nearly 50% of adults in the USA will develop at least one mental illness during their life time. To add more to the concern, the highest numbers of the mentally ill are located in the South eastern states of the USA. In short, you and I are living with many mentally ill folks right here in Central Louisiana. In other words, it affects us all. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, democrat or republican, young or old, mental illness is common in our midst. Why because we are all subject to vulnerabilities, trauma and stressor in life. Our vulnerabilities may be biological, emotional, abuse, neglect, dementia, alcoholism, etc. We are all born with vulnerabilities and we all deal with stressors of life. Regrettably, people who are mentally ill do have to deal with the effects of the illness including disruption of their daily lives, incapacitation of their personal, social and occupational impairment, and pre-mature death. That’s not to mention about the social stigma that comes with the illness in our society.
Some people may ask the question, why should we care? Or what does the Church have to do with mental illness? I believe very strongly that the Church is the answer to mental illness. The Church has a serious role to play in the matter and the Church must be educated about its role. The aim of this article is to spell out the Biblical, historical and practical role of the Church. Biblically speaking, the ministry of Jesus Christ is threefold namely preaching, teaching and healing. In other words, one third of Jesus ministry is about healing. Therefore, the Church should be actively involved in the healing process of the mentally ill. A lawyer once asked Jesus about what it would take to inherit the kingdom of God. In response, Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and with all his mind; and to love his neighbor as himself. (Luke 10:25-27) The mentally ill are our “neighbors!”
Historically, the Church is known to have been the pioneer of most hospitals in the world. The same is true even here in our community. Our two major hospitals, Rapides General and St Francis Cabrini were both pioneered by the Church. In fact, it is arguable that the Church has a longer history of dealing with health issues than the Government. Till today, it is not uncommon to go to various cities around the nation and find many hospitals with strong Christian tradition. So, historically, the Church has always been on the frontline of healing the sick. However, we must be careful that we do not loose focus in this matter, especially when it comes to the mentally ill. Think about it, when was the last time you hear a Pastor talk about mental illness or when was the last time that you heard a testimony mental illness in your Church. The blunt truth is that from a practical standpoint, the Church can be very helpful to relief suffering, reveal Christ and restore lives.
Briefly, let me give you some ideas on how the Church can help. Right now, most psychiatric hospitals are using the treatment model to deal with mental illness. Basically, the treatment model includes diagnosis, medication and therapy for the most part. There is nothing wrong with medication or therapy. But holistic or whole person approach seems to be the best. I am not saying that I am an expert in psychiatry. In fact, I will admit that I know very little about it. Notwithstanding, I can assure you that a mentally ill who have a good support system including family, friends, church, other organization for social therapy, support group, skill development, life style training, etc; are more likely do well in today’s society. I do recognize that we are living in a society of pill poppers. If a person has cold, he goes to the Doctor, the Doctor prescribes the medication, he takes it and get well. But the reality is that a mentally ill person who follows the same pattern will not be cured of his mental illness like a person can be cured of cold. In fact, as far as I know, there is no human cure for mental illness unless God intervene. So when it comes to mental illness, the recovery model is the real deal.
The Church has an incredible opportunity to play a serious role in the recovery model. The Church can do simple things for the mentally ill that will make a big difference. For example, the Church can babysit for the mentally ill, visit or assist the spouse of a mentally ill, help to mow the grass, bring a meal or assist the mentally ill in paying his/her bills. The Church can assist the mentally ill to pay for their medication or therapy. To me, all those simple acts of kindness can help to relief the suffering of the mentally ill. In my personal experience with the mentally ill, I have found out that when you help to relief their suffering, they will in turn develop a relationship with you which may open the door for evangelism with broader opportunity to give hope, help, healing and encouragement. Many times, all the mentally ill person is looking for is someone who cares, someone who will listen and walk with them. That is what restoration is all about. The Church can make the mentally ill feel more welcome in their congregation and Church events. Our job is to help people become normal and not watch them isolated from the society. Enough is enough of the stigma and the labels. Let the Church rise up and be counted for healing the sick. And God will greatly reward the church. Here, I must confess that one of my greatest joy in life is being able to publicly stand with those who are suffering. Frankly, it is very fulfilling and quite rewarding spiritually.
Finally, if you are mentally ill and you are reading this article, never let the devil tell you that your mind is gone or that your future is gone. Just because you are mentally ill does not mean that you are crazy or insane. If you are struggling with depression, delusions, paranoia, hallucination, etc; remember that the things that are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27) You may have been told that you will never hold a real job, be in a real relationship, have a family, or graduate from a college. But believe me when I tell you, in my Nineteen years of working with the mentally ill, I have seen many who went to school, got married, have a family and doing well in the society. Hold your head high. Take your medication, attend the therapy, let your friends and family help you, and let God love you.