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 physical event with spiritual side effects or a spiritual event with physical side effects; do choices-emotions trigger biology or biology trigger choices-emotions?
- How do we best assess when the relief of medication would decrease the motivation to change versus when that same relief would increase the possibility of change? Pain can both motivate and overwhelm; is this simply about personal thresholds or should mental anguish be evaluated by a different set of criteria?
- Are our emotions more than the alarm system of the soul (moral) and the chemicals of our brain (biological)? Do these two categories tell us everything we need to know about emotions? Are these categories complimentary or competitive with one another?
- Can we have a collective disease? Is mental illness always personal or can it be cultural? Cultural changes necessarily add to or detract from the kind of stresses that influence mental illness. How should we understand this influence and when might an “epidemic” require a collective solution as much as personal choices?
- Why are we, culturally, more open about almost everything in our lives than we were a generation ago except mental illness? Why does this stigma / prejudice maintain its socially-accepted status when most others have been rejected?
“The mentally ill are one group of handicapped people against whom it still seems to be socially acceptable to hold prejudice (p. 36).” Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion