3 Keys To Engaging Those Struggling With Mental Illness
THIS IS PART TWO OF A TWO PART GUEST SERIES BY DR. ZACHARY SIKORA, PSY.D. HE'S A GODLY MAN, MY DEAR FRIEND & A GIFTED PSYCHOLOGIST.
The Christian Church has largely mishandled the care of individuals struggling with mental health illness. In doing so, an attitude of contempt and shame has been communicated. In an attempt to begin repairing this relationship, here are three essential ideas and directives Christians can begin contemplating to help bridge this gap.
1. Recognize the scope of the problem.
Psychological issues are not the exception; they are the norm. The National Institute of Mental Health (2005) reports that in a given year, 26.2% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with a psychological disorder. This statistic represents the proportion of the population that is actually diagnosed with a documented disorder. The percentage is likely higher if taking into consideration individuals with psychological disorders who do not seek professional help and those with psychological problems that do not meet diagnostic criteria, but experience significant dysfunction as a result of mental health issues.
To bring these numbers into context, consider the following data. The American Diabetes Association indicates that 8.9% of the U.S. population was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011. There are three times as many individuals with psychological disorders than with diabetes in the U.S., yet there is not an overwhelming stigma associated with diabetes.
Stigma births shame, shame births isolation, and isolation convinces us that we are unfixable by Jesus. A first step in reducing this stigma starts with Christians like you and me shifting our vernacular from “them” to “us” when referring to those with psychological problems.
2. Remember that it’s not just a chemical imbalance.
We are fallen. The moment Adam and Eve chose to betray God in the garden, disorder was ushered into existence. The bottom line is that illness and disorder are a result of separation from God. Modern thought would like you to believe that psychological issues are due solely to imbalances in brain chemicals, problematic behaviors and cognitions, or unhealthy parenting/attachment relationships. This is reductionistic and disserving, and unfortunately many Christians have bought into it.
Although any one of these can be contributory factors, they are not the cause. In order to treat the problem, the Church must shift its focus from causes that provide partial restoration to a solution that offers complete redemption.
3. Healing is found in Jesus Christ.
If psychological disorder is due to our fallen nature then we must first turn to Jesus and confess our sin and frailties. Only He can offer true healing. Other interventions are like placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It is the Church’s responsibility to point everyone back to Jesus, and this is especially imperative with those struggling with psychological problems, as it is our tendency as humans to problem solve and fix using our own understanding. This is self-worship and never ends well.
One of the greatest attributes of Jesus is that He was fully human and He experienced the spectrum of human emotion. Most often, healing begins with feeling understood. As our High Priest, Jesus empathizes more than we realize (Heb.4:14) and in order to experience this understanding, hurting people need to be directed to Him. The answers to their struggles are found in Scripture and they are asserted in the promises and directions of God.
It is our responsibility as Christians to listen, support, and love those struggling in any fashion. Those struggling with mental health are no exception. It is time for us to engage with empathetic ears and the good news of Jesus Christ.