This is one blog in a series where I will be reflecting on the subject of mental illness. My purpose in raising this series of questions is not to lead the reader to the same conclusions I have, but to facilitate better conversations and reflections on this subject within the church.
When engaging a difficult and highly personal subject, it is better to start with good questions than a list of answers. The better our questions are, the more responsibly we will utilize the answers of which we are confidant, the more humbly we will approach areas of uncertainty, and the more we will honor one another in the process of learning.
As I’ve read, counseled, and thought about the subject of mental illness, here are some of the questions that have emerged.
- Is mental illness a flaw in character or chemistry? Is this the best way to frame the question? What do we lose when we fall into the trap of either-or thinking?
- Why do we think of genetic influences as if they negate the role of the will or personal choice? Substance abuse can have a clear genetic predisposition, but every addiction program – even those most committed to a disease model – appeal to the will as a key component to sobriety.
- In the modern psychological proverb, “The genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,” where is the person? How do we best understand the interplay of predisposition (genetics), influences (environment), and the individual making choices (person)?
- What percent of those who struggle with “normal sorrow” are labeled as clinically depressed? What percentage of those who think their sorrow is normal are actually clinically depressed? How do we communicate effectively when the same word – depression – has both a clinical and popular usage? (Click here for a post where this question is developed further)
“There is concern that the way we make the diagnosis will apply the label of depressed to many who actually have emotional struggles but no disease (p. 13).” Charles Hodges, M.D. in Good Mood Bad Mood