I came across an old post on Christian Counselor Phil Monroe’s blog today that showed just how little has changed in the way the church handles serious mental illness. It is clear the church has made significant steps towards improving the understanding and treatment of more mild mental illness such as the more common forms of depression and anxiety, but that doesn’t mean all mental illness patients have felt the same gains.
Mental illness patients almost all report feeling stigmatized for their conditions, but serious mental illness (SMI) patients face even more stigma and roadblocks than your average person struggling with mental health. Bipolar and schizophrenic patients are shunned even by many who suffer from more “mild” mental illnesses such as depression, and sadly they are often treated even worse within the church.
Interestingly, SMI patients are quite prone to acknowledging spiritual or religious beliefs or identity according to Monroe, but they almost uniformly report feeling unwelcome in the church and unable to find support. Even worse, many mental health professionals are unsupportive of the faith or beliefs of SMI patients.
Schizophrenia patients face perhaps the highest hurdle. Huge sects of Christianity still view schizophrenia and the disease it is often confused with, multiple personality disorder, as outright demonic possession and nothing else. While it has become more common to see churches acknowledge the reality of depression, anxiety, and even conditions like Tourette’s, schizophrenia is still treated as a manifestation of evil, and this has to change.
Bipolar patients also face many of their unique challenges within society and the church. Bipolar disorder is almost as misunderstood as schizophrenia, and members of the church aren’t prepared to respond to a disorder they do not understand. Our first steps as a church should be looking to educate ourselves about mental health and mental illnesses of every form. We can’t properly counsel those in the most need unless we seek to understand them. We also can’t help direct them to the most relevant teachings of Christ to help them find comfort and support.