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.
- Are we trying to medically create an idyllic sanguine personality? Is “normal” becoming too emotionally narrow? If not in the medical establishment, then are societal norms pushing people in this direction and the service-oriented medical profession trying to accommodate its well-intended, but misguided clientele?
“The consumer model to which medicine seems to be uncritically adopting pursuance is providing what the patient wants—that is, customer satisfaction in matters of health—is the measure of success (p. 26).” Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, M.D. in Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine
- Does the alleviation of symptoms with medication always mean we are curing a disease? We medically treat the symptoms of many diseases and non-diseases to provide relief. This is good. Why have we allowed the debate over the disease model for mental illness to polarize the conversation about the roles of medication can play in mental health?
- How should we understand the effects of the Fall on the mind and brain? We know our bodies age and die. We know all of our organs are susceptible to disease and deterioration. We have “norms” for the frequency, duration, onset, and prognosis of these effects of the Fall; what are the equivalent expectations for the mind and brain?
“As the brain is the most complex organ in our body, it is liable to be the most affected of all our organs by the Fall and the divine curse on our bodies (p. 64).” David Murray in Christians Get Depressed Too
- How do we understand the tension between “already” and “not yet” with regards to the health, development, and preservation of the mind? How much should we expect to be able to remedy the effects of the Fall upon the mind prior to the ultimate redemption that will occur when Christ returns (Revelation 21:4)?
- How much should we expect conversion and normal sanctification (spiritual maturity) to impact mental illness? Outside of medical interventions, most secular treatments for mental illness focus on healthy-thinking, healthy-choices, and healthy-relationships; so how much should Christians expect sound-doctrine, righteous-living, and biblical-community to impact their struggle with mental illness?