A Conversation About Mental Illness

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Recently, a couple of friends at church asked me how I am. They really wanted to know. It wasn’t just a “Hi, how are you?” greeting.

I told them about some recent struggles with my manic-depressive illness. They know that I’m mentally ill so talking about it wasn’t such a big deal. I told them that, with help from my psychiatrist, my moods lately are becoming less erratic and troublesome. I saw from their individual responses that people within the Church can be helpful in what they say because they’ve done some homework about mental illness. Besides, these ladies also know me personally.

Perhaps Christians are beginning to take mental illnesses as seriously as they do other chronic illnesses. Less often do they respond in a way that puts the blame for being sick on us. I’ve had some spiritual brothers and sisters say things they probably would never say to someone else who’s sick. I’ve been told I’d heal if I’d just “pray more” or “trust God.” I’ve been told I’m possessed by the devil.

I pray. I trust God with everything in me. But I still often struggle with more than one chronic illness.

Here’s how I explain the fact that it’s a chronic illness. My illness is no different from that of a diabetic. That is, except for the fact that my illness is behavioral you also understand that, in the event of a major episode, a diabetic’s behavior can be out of character too. What differentiates us is they have a chemical imbalance in their pancreas because it doesn’t produce enough insulin. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain because it doesn’t produce proper amounts of specific neurotransmitters. That’s a simplification, but one I hope most people can understand.

If we who have a mental illness don’t talk about them as illnesses, how can we expect others to? Approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. They have clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, manic-depressive disorder (bipolar disorder), schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder), post traumatic stress disorder, or one of many others.

I’m writing a devotional that’s faith-based and meant to help people with mental illnesses. Even we who have been diagnosed need to better understand our illnesses. Understanding can help us to navigate the changes we’re experiencing and to live better lives according to those changes. I want the book to help someone newly diagnosed or someone who’s been diagnosed with the illness for years.

We need to talk with one another about the diagnosis and any prescribed medications. We need to stay in touch with and use honesty with the doctors who have us in their care. We need to talk about the times we experience outpatient or inpatient treatment. And maybe most of all, we need to learn how to keep a balanced lifestyle to avoid the stress which can bring on an episode more quickly.

What I hope will be especially helpful for us is the idea that a family member or friend can also learn by reading the book with its accompanying essays written by people who have a mental illness. While the book is being written with my Christian faith as a foundation, I don’t see why anyone couldn’t learn at least a little from reading it.

There. This may have been your first real education in better understanding mental illness and accepting it as a disease. Please try to better understand us. Pray for us. We’re ill and sometimes feel hopeless. But we are certainly not helpless. Your support can make a big difference in making even just one single day more livable for us. Whether it’s a hard one or a not-so-hard one.

Be a blessing to someone today

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