Over the weekend the world heard the news that Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay, took his own life after a lengthy battle with depression. The Christian community was shocked and saddened, but now many are beginning to use his story as an example of the church’s dire need to address mental illness.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, wrote a post for CNN on Sunday arguing for big changes in how the Christian world handles mental health. The problems aren’t just in the shame or stigma we often struggle with in the community, but also the widespread understandings and sometimes fear for psychological medicine.
Stetzer tells Christians, “we should not be afraid of the medicine.” There has been a heated debate about the use of medicine to treat mental illness for decades. Medicine prescribed by doctors has risks. Patients can abuse certain medicine, or there can be issues in how they respond, but those are managed through honest open dialogue between counselors, and training to identify signs that someone is abusing their prescriptions.
Of course, the medicine prescribed is only a portion of the entire treatment. No patient or doctor should ever rely strictly on pills to manage a mental condition, but attentive counseling and support as well. Just as a cast is only one portion to treating a broken bone, so is medicine only one aspect of handling mental health issues.
As Stetzer puts it, “we’ve long seen the value in the medical treatment of cancer. It’s time for Christians to affirm the value of medical treatment for mental illness as well.”
The common solution to all of the issues surrounding depression and other mental health conditions within the church is education.
There are obviously other steps that must be taken, but the fear of mental health medicine and shame or discomfort with mental health problems require cultural changes that can only come with properly educating the congregations about the reality of mental illness and chemical imbalances within the body.