YOU Can Help Stop the Stigma

Mental Health Awareness Month Resource Page

stigmaMental Health Awareness Month-What’s the Big Deal?

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Many of you may wonder why a website dedicated to caregivers and caregiving would take the time to mention mental health isues. Meantal Health problems are the unseen cancer of our times.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-24. Take a moment to let that statistic sink in.

The School of Social Work at Washington State University has this sobering statistic to share:

The great majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide.  However, of those who die from suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Our daughter Sarah almost became one of those statistics. She had an undiagnosed mental illness that caused severe depression and suicidal ideation. We became her caregivers, even though she didn’t suffer from cancer.

The Stimga of Cancer (and Mental Illness)

Like cancer, mental illness knows no socioeconomic boundaries. It doesn’t skip age groups, ethnicities, or religions, either. Mental illness can occur in any person, at any time, for no apparent reason. Thus the need for a Mental Health Awareness Month.

A century ago, no one wanted to speak about cancer, either. In fact, doctors didn’t tell their patients that they HAD cancer for fear of demoralizing them. That stigma remained in place for centuries. Thank goodness the American Cancer Society got the conversation started in 1913 and published a list of warning signs.

Conversation leads to questions, which lead to research, which leads to ways to manage and cure. We can do the same thing with mental illness. We can not only stop the stigma, we can help change treatment and understanding.

Like #cancer, #mentalillness knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Inform yourself. #stopthestigma… Click To Tweet

The more we know, the more likely we will notice changes in behavior that could signal a deeper problem. If we know the signs, we will know when to get help. pray

Resources for Mental Health Awareness

NAMI has a great website that offers not only information about mental illnesses, but support group information for both those who suffer and their family members. They offer a free helpline 24/7. If you suspect that someone you love has a mental illness, CONTACT NAMI today! You could save a life (Text NAMI to 741741 to get help).

The School of Social Work at Washington State University hosts the Mental Health Reporting. The information helps reporters and writers (as well as patients and caregivers) talk about mental illness in a way that avoids perpetrating the stigma against those who suffer.

Do you know of another website that offers quality information? Email me at anita at blessedbutstressed dot com and I’ll add it to this page if the information fits.

Stories From the Trenches

Sometiems, just knowing that we are not alone is all it takes to help us get help for ourselves or seek help for a loved one. We hope that these stories will resonate with you and inspire you to stop the stigma:

31 Glimpses into an Unquiet Mind–Our family’s journey with mental illness.

What I Wish Christians Understood About Mental Illness

Why Should You Care About Mental Illness?

What I Wish Christians Knew About Harm OCD

What I Wish Christians Knew About Prayer and Mental Health Issues

The Challenges of the Topsy Turvy World of Mental Illness

If Insurance Companies Treated Cancer Like a Mental Illness

How I Wish the Church Would Treat Those With Mental Illnesses

Caring for a Parent with a Mental Illness

What I Wish Christians Knew about Anxiety

What I Wish Christians Knew about Caregiver PTSD

Dear Church: People With Mental Illness Love Jesus, Too!

Join the Conversation!

If you’re a blogger and have written a story about mental health issues and would like it included in this list, please email me at anita at blessedbutstressed dot com. I would love to grow this resource page into something beautiful for those who suffer from or have a family member that suffers from a mental illness. Together we can stop the stigma, bring hope, and love like Jesus loves!

If you do nothing else, please share this article on Facebook so that the one in five people who suffer from a mental health issue can find hope and healing!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Pray and Persist: The Keys to Advocating for Adolescents

Advocating

Flashbacks by Proxy

The hiss of the bus stopping at the United terminal at the Newark, NJ airport stabbed me. We grabbed our suitcases, in preparation from finishing our transfer from one terminal to another on the airport bus. Two years had passed since that fateful night when we almost lost Sarah, and I hadn’t expected my eyes to tear up as we traveled through an airport we had never been to before.

Questions bounced around inside my head as I gripped the my suitcase handle. Had Sarah stumbled off this very bus the night she almost died? Had she listened to the swoosh of the automatic doors and smelled the jet fuel before collapsing on the tarmac? My momma heart wanted to know the details of that night, even if they hurt. Even though two years had passed, I wanted to make sense of all that had happened during that dark period of her life.

Every momma wants to soothe, protect, and bring light into our children’s nightmares—whether our child is five, 15, or 25. I will probably never know exactly what happened that night, but I believe that praying for my daughter made a difference in the outcome of her story.

The very night that sirens wailed and flashing lights converged on the scene while paramedics knelt at Sarah’s side, I knelt beside my bed, 2000 miles away, clueless to her plight. I knew she was in danger, but I didn’t know how much. The urge to pray was so great that I did something I had never done before—I sent out requests to some of Sarah’s mentors and friends and asked them to pray with me.

More Questions Than Answers

We didn’t find out until over a week later that paramedics rushed Sarah to a hospital near the airport and eventually released her after 12 hours. It took months for the full story to emerge.

Our well-brought-up-Christian daughter, the one we strove to instill with the proper balance of caution and freedom, had accepted some drug-laced ‘candies’ from strangers. Without even stopping to think of all the lessons we’d taught her, she had popped the candies into her mouth and ended up passed out at the airport on the tarmac between terminals. While it wasn’t exactly an overdose, it did require hospital observation.

At almost 21, she seemed too old to accept and ingest candy of questionable origin from people she had never met before. After all, we taught her all about stranger danger from an early age.

Had we failed as parents? For the past two years, Sarah’s behavior had bewildered us. She started binge eating and gained weight. When she went away to college she struggled to get good grades—despite her 4.0 high-school GPA. She lost confidence in her ability to reason and think and write.

When she couldn’t decide on a major, she went to Argentina for a year, where she seemed to suffer from the throes of first love as well as deep depression. When she returned, the first love was a thing of the past, but the depression remained.

We took Sarah to counseling. She continued to gain weight. We took her to psychologists. She spoke of going for a walk at night and stepping in front of a car. She came home to stay with us until we could figure things out. I spent hours on the phone trying to find a treatment center that our insurance would pay for.

You can find the rest of the story over at Kindred Mom.

pray

 

 

Five Ways to Make Church a Haven for the Hurting

make church a havenToday’s guest post comes from Amanda Goodman, a brave woman who shares her struggle with mental illness because she wants Christians to understand that they can make church a haven for the hurting. You can find other posts in this series here.

On January 26, 2011, our daughter, Brianna Ruby Goodman, was born in Minnesota. I immediately felt different and didn’t know if it was normal. I was hyper, talkative, couldn’t sleep, and even had delusions. My husband, David, and I were not prepared for what was happening with me. He arranged an appointment at the Mental Health Clinic on Valentine’s Day and the counselor talked to me briefly. She looked me in the eye and said, “You are manic.” I was familiar with the term as my Dad has Bipolar Disorder.

Things got worse. I had Postpartum Psychosis. In my psychotic state, I believed there was a birthday party for me and without understanding, I checked myself into the hospital the day before my 31st birthday. I was hospitalized for a week and left heavily medicated with the diagnosis of Postpartum Psychosis with Bipolar Onset.

After this manic episode, I went into a depression common with Bipolar. Depression is horrible and I just felt numb and apathetic. It lasted about 2 years. I went through a long trial of medications to find one for me. My husband supported me by going with me to the psychiatrist frequently. I finally went on Lithium.

My family and I moved back to Charlotte, NC. I began having to help with my parents’ care. In March 2014, I was trying to take care of my Dad after my Mom had moved into Assisted Living. I was very stressed managing their care and I could feel the mania in my body. I was losing more sleep which continued to work in a downward spiral. I decided to give up my keys, my journal and my phone.

mental health awarenessA few days later, I got angry with my father-in-law, grabbed his collar and he called the police. He knew I needed help. I talked to the policeman and he had to handcuff me in order to take me to treatment. Handcuffs and a police car are designed to be painful!

I was hospitalized again for 10 days. While in the hospital, I felt so close to God and enjoyed group sessions and therapy.
I have Bipolar but I am a child of God, a child of the One True King. I believe that God wants me to share my (mental health) story for His Glory. God has reminded me of a passage in 2 Corinthians several times. One part is “ My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).

Why is church a hard place to go when you have a mental illness?

When I went from mania into depression, it was extremely difficult to go to church each week. It was one of the hardest places I had to go. I think it was hard because most of us have our masks on at church and we are not willing to be authentic with each other. It was much easier for me to pretend and tell people that I was fine rather than to admit I was struggling. I couldn’t find the words to explain my feelings with depression. I think depression is like tires being stuck in ruts. It is hard to get moving and hard to explain to others why you feel apathetic.

Five Ways to Make Church a Haven

  1. We are all broken. It is important to remember that we are all broken in need of restoration.
  2. We all need God. As Christians, we need to be willing to walk alongside people who are struggling with mental illness/illnesses and love them like Jesus.
  3. You don’t need to ‘fix’ anyone. It is ok to sit with someone and say nothing at all. The person may need you to be there when they feel like talking.
  4. Remember your Es. We should encourage one another and show empathy. We have to be willing to love people where they are or when they feel unlovable. Also, we need to remember that we do not know how a person is feeling inside.
  5. Churches need to be like hospitals (because we are all broken), not like courtrooms where people are judged. We do not need to be embarassed to discuss mental illnesses or cases of suicide. People who commit suicide were really struggling and didn’t know how to ask for help. We need to break down the mental health stigma by sharing more with others without being paralyzed by fear, shame or embarassment.
#Churches should feel like hospitals, not courtrooms. #mentalillness #bipolar Click To Tweet

There are many mental illnesses and each has different physical, emotional and mental characteristics and different treatments or therapy. It becomes complicated. Treatment requires using trial and error with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other trained professionals. With my Bipolar, I finally found the two medicines that work for me. Someone else with Bipolar may have different medicines they use. It is our human tendency to want to fix a problem by putting a band-aid on it. Unfortunately, some things are not solved quickly and do not go away like mental illnesses.

When I was manic at the beginning of my mental health journey, Brianna’s great-grandparents and other family came to take care of Brianna. We were receiving meals from my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, and kindly women kept our house clean and even did our laundry. I know it sounds strange but I wasn’t even able to do our laundry. So it was a blessing for us to have all of this help and a sacrifice from those families! To this day, I don’t know who helped with laundry and it doesn’t really matter. They were being the hands and feet of Jesus!

As the church, let’s be willing to step out of our comfort zone so people do not feel alone. Let’s be authentic, discuss mental health and share our masks in order to provide Hope. It is not all about us. We must realize that it is ok to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus and remember that we personally may have to struggle in order for people feel and experience God’s love.

make church a haven
Biography: Amanda Goodman was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. I attended Meredith College and majored in Child Development with K-6 licensure. After marriage, she and her husband moved to Minnesota, where her daughter was born. She taught second grade for seven years. She and her husband David and daughter Brianna live live in North Carolina.  She loves Jesus and lives out her faith by sharing her story for His glory.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirations post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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What I Learned in May (aka Mental Health Awareness Month)

mental health awareness month

Ignorance can kill you (or at least hurt someone you love) #mentalhealth #stopthestigma Click To Tweet

Until last March, I had very little awareness of the varity and severity of different mental health issues.  I used the word ‘crazy’ with abandon and insensitivity.  If people didn’t agree with me, or their actions seemed incomprehensible to my moral code or background, I wrote them off as loco.

Things have changed. Our family went through a harrowing journey when our youngest daughter experienced an epic manic episode–not her first one, evidently, but the first one that we witnessed and experienced with her.

I don’t use the words crazy or loco any more.

This year, I decided to focus on bringing awareness to others about the different mental health challenges that ordinary people face.  Since I didn’t know much, I called on other brave souls to write about their experiences and share them with our readers.

I learned a lot.  In no particular order, I’ll share the highlights with you.

  1.  I had no idea that harm OCD existed. Instead of the need to wash one’s hands repeatedly, suffers imagine that they will do bodily harm to those they love.
  2. Whilst prayer plays an important part in healing, Christians should avoid bad advice to those who disclose a mental anguish to them.
  3. Jim Miles taught me that ‘Leprosy’ in the Bible doesn’t just mean what we know as leprosy today.  It included acne and rashes and other skin disorders.  The point?  God made us smart enough to come up wtih therapies (medicinal and talk) that help us overcome our mental health issues such as post-partum depression.
  4. The church plays an important role coming alongside those who suffer from mental health problems (and their families).  Tara Ulrich gives some great advice.
  5. Marisa Slusarcyk shared with us the horrific cost of mental illness (and the fact that a person can suffer from more than one at a time). Bottom line? Don’t judge.  You never know what combination of chemistry and trauma brought on a person’s mental state.
  6. Don’t confuse adolsecent angst and defiance with the warning signs of the onset of bipolar disorder. You NEED to know the difference.  Education saves lives.
  7. Guest writer Marie Gregg made me think about anxiety disorders in a whole new way.
  8. Every heard of Caregiver PTSD? I called it chemo-brain by proxy. With more and more family members tending to the physical and emotional needs of the sick and elderly, the incidence of Caregiver PTSD will rise.
  9. Don’t ever think that people with PTSD make this stuff up. Be gentle in your interactions and once again, never judge. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser shares great advice on how to relate to someone with PTSD.

God created us with incredible capacities to learn, love, bounce back, adapt, change and thrive.  I challenge you to educate yourself about how you can best react to the hurting people around you. I’d also appreciate it if you would share any of these posts on your social media channels to help spread the word about mental health awareness. Together, we can purpose to #DoNoHarm and #Stopthe Stigma!

What I Wish Christians Knew About Harm OCD

Harm OCDEditor’s note: The following piece was submitted by an anonymous author.  Whilst many of us invision repeated hand washing, or perhaps Monk’s compulsion to have everything orderly when we hear the words ‘OCD,’ that isn’t the only kind of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It first happened six months after I turned eighteen, as I was walking to the chapel at my university for a required assembly. Palm fronds swished against a clear sky and a light wind brushed my face. I was thinking about how I wished I could stay in my dorm room and read rather than attend a required assembly with two thousand sweaty students.

The next thought sliced into my mind out of nowhere.

What if I stabbed a family member?

I stopped walking.

I did not just think that, I thought. I would never do that.

People surged past me, chattering about upcoming exams, the greasy cafeteria food, lack of sleep. I made myself start walking again, but my mind sank deep into thought.

How do you know you would never do that?

Because I love my family, I thought. Because I hate violence. I can’t even watch scary movies without a pillow over my face.

But does that mean you’ll never hover outside your brother’s door with the knife from the kitchen and—
Stop.
—sneak over to his bed and—
Stop, stop.

A gruesome image followed. I swore at myself to stop, to banish the image from my mind. By then I had come to the steps before the chapel. I climbed them slowly, my fingers clutching the metal rail.

You see, said my mind, you can imagine it. That means you might do it. Mightn’t you?

No.

Yes.

No, I wouldn’t. I could never do that. I love my family, I love my brother. Please, that’s enough.

How can you be sure you won’t hurt them?

I dropped into a wooden pew and tried to answer that question for the next hour. I failed, and for the rest of that week, my throat ached in the place where my mind told me I might draw a knife across a loved one’s neck. During work one evening, I called my mom, and I sobbed to her that something was wrong.

“Explain it, sweetie,” she said, but I didn’t dare. She would have no choice but to report me to the police if she did, or commit me to an insane asylum.

Sane people did not have these thoughts.

So my mom offered all she could: prayer.

But I had already begged God to take the thoughts and images away from me, and he had not answered.

I almost didn’t want to go home for the summer, for fear that I would fulfill the horrors my mind now paraded in front of me every day. I saw my life laid out before me: One day I would snap under the weight of the thoughts, and I would lose control and do the terrible thing, and then I would die in jail, a criminal who had never wanted to commit a crime. The thought slammed me into a place of crushing self-hatred. But then I knew—and this thought made me feel only slightly better—that before I let myself hurt anyone, I would kill myself first.

I tried to distract myself with my summer job, with spending time with my family. If they were all around me, where they could restrain me should I show signs of snapping, they were safe. One warm summer evening, we watched a movie that started to show my nightmare: a kid with a knife, entering his family’s house with a chilling look on his face. I left the room, slipped into the bathroom, and sat on the toilet lid, my face cradled in trembly hands. After half an hour, I edged back into the living room. I wanted to ask if the boy had done it, if he had done the unthinkable. But I didn’t, because if he had, might that not mean I could, too? It was better not to know.

Another year of college flew past, and then another summer. I tiptoed through life, avoiding situations that could cause me to hurt someone else: I stayed away from knives, from guns, from balconies. Each day I judged myself a murderer for the images that seared my mind, and one day in church as I sang a song about God’s love I felt that God had ditched me. I wanted nothing more than to meet him and ask him what was wrong with me. I wanted to talk to him in person, and ask him to heal me. Just then another horrible thought burned my mind and nearly pushed me to me knees.

I closed my mouth. The song swelled toward the ceiling. Clouds loomed over the stained-glass windows, shuttering all the light.

My biggest enemy, my snatcher of joy, lived within my own bones and smiled my smile, and not even God could squelch it.

Somehow I successfully completed a third year of college. During my senior year of college, I decided to look for help for another problem I’d been facing for years. After some online research, I ordered a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne. I decided to read from the beginning, and the book covers many types of anxiety disorders. I read disinterestedly about obsessive-compulsive disorder until I read this line:

“Obsessions may occur by themselves, without necessarily being accompanied by compulsions. In fact, about 20 percent of the people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder only have obsessions, and these often center around fears of causing harm to a loved one” (21).

I re-read that lifesaving line.

Eagerly I read on, and found this:

“It is very important to realize that as bizarre as obsessive-compulsive behavior may sound, it has nothing to do with ‘being crazy.’ You always recognize the irrationality and senselessness of your thoughts and behavior, and you are very frustrated (as well as depressed) about your inability to control them” (21).

Yes, that’s me, I thought.

On the next page, I got a morsel of information on how to help myself: cognitive therapy. “Fearful, superstitious, or guilty thoughts associated with obsessions are identified, challenged, and replaced. For example, the idea ‘If I have a thought of doing harm to my child, I might act on it’ is replaced with ‘The thought of doing harm is just ‘random noise’ caused by the OCD. It has no significance. Just having the thought doesn’t mean I’ll do it’” (22).

Reverently, I closed the book.

I was not psychotic, I was not evil, I was not a murderer. I probably suffered from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I researched books specifically for OCD and found a well-rated one called The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by John Hershfield and Tom Corboy. In this book I found the answer to the type of OCD from which I suffered: harm OCD, which centers around the fear of hurting loved ones. I spent hours reading about why the brain begins the thought processes it does. I learned that most people have fleeting thoughts of what if I hurt someone I love?

The difference between those people and people who suffer from harm OCD is that most people recognize such thoughts for what they are: meaningless thoughts, not threats. Their brains do not seize on the thoughts and launch into relentless cycles of questioning, fearing, and judging.

These two books started hoisting me out of the pool of darkness that I had swum in for three years. I still struggled with intrusive thoughts, but I fought the OCD with techniques I learned in the books I read. I got brave enough to search harm OCD on the Internet, and found out that, while the information on it is relatively new, hundreds of people have it—probably thousands—but few seek treatment because they are afraid of the same things I feared: that their family members will think them psychotic and evil, and that doctors and counselors will commit them to psychiatric hospitals or jail.

And sadly, sometimes the reaction to this mental illness is negative, but I have been lucky. In the past year I have told my mom, husband, and a handful of other family members and friends about my struggle with this illness, and each of them has emanated understanding.

Intrusive thoughts still plague me from time to time, and on some days I can deal with them better than others. But I’m determined to beat OCD. Each morning I make three requests of God, and one of them is that he help me conquer the OCD soon so that I can live the way I once did and worry about the things normal people worry about.

Because of my experience with OCD, I try to stay alert to clues that someone might be suffering from a mental illness they don’t understand, and while I pray that God comforts them, I also pray that he will lead them to the right tools to help them start to heal, as he did for me.

Don't confuse #OCD with #Monk--it's not just about straightening books. Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Find some #inspiration with me over at @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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What I Wish Christians Understood about Cheer

cheerAre Kind Words Enough to Cheer Up an Anxious Person?

It says it right there in Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Unfortunately, some Christians believe kind words can serve as the only antidote to anxiety. They can’t. Kind words provide a corollary, but we should never assume that they provide the only or best answer to anxiety.

Some #Christians beleive that kind words provide the antidote to #anxiety. They don't. Click To Tweet

I have a generally upbeat, happy-go-lucky sort of attitude, so it took me awhile to understand our daughter’s bouts of paralyzing anxiety. She would call me in the middle of the night, crying and scarcely unable to verbalize her symptoms. I would kneel by her bed and murmur soothing things to her and pray with her and help her breathe. Eventually, she would fall asleep and I would return to bed and toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering what we had done wrong in raising her to produce such deep anxiety.

Our routine seemed to work. In hindsight, I should have taken her to a therapist. I come from a background and era where we avoided coffee, tea, alcohol, loud music and psychiatrists. At this point in my life (after coming alongside a daughter with panic attacks and experiencing life with a daughter with bipolar disorder) I understand how my ignorance and attitudes prevented them from finding help sooner.

A quick search on the Internet shows that therapy (and possibly medication) can alleviate panic attacks, anxiety, and panic disorders. Sometimes, the symptoms can have a physiological basis (heart problems, thyroid problems or hypoglycemia, caffeine or illegal stimulant use). Other times, stressful events can bring on periods of intense anxiety (those who suffer often experience the same symptoms of someone having a heart attack).

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety or panic attacks, take action.

1. Offer kind words such as “Have you ever considered seeing a therapist to help you with your panic attacks? I’d be happy to go along with you if you need mortal support.”
2. Commit to praying for them and with them (scientists are currently studying whether or not intercessory prayer provides healing results).
3. Avoid phrases such as, “What’s wrong with you? You have a nice home and a great family” or, “So and so has it worse than you do, and he or she never seems anxious.” Only God knows how people are knit together. Guilting someone does not bring cheer.
4. Personal faith in God does not provide immunity from anxiety or panic—it CAN make it easier to overcome the symptoms with the help of therapy and medicine.
5. Never assume that anxiety or panic prove that a person’s faith is weak.

Does the Bible lie or contradict itself? No. That verse in Proverbs simply says that anxiety weighs down a heart, and kind words can cheer someone up. Sometimes, those kind words need to come from a professional who knows how to guide a person through the emotional minefields that comprise the knots of heavy anxiety that produce panic attacks.

So be kind. Get help if you need it without shame or self-recrimination or help someone you know get help.

What I Wish Christians Knew About Prayer and Mental Health

demon possession and mental health

Are Mental Health Issues Demon Possession or Something Else?

Today’s guest post comes from Jim Miles.

My sister spent her twenties declaring that she would never, ever have children. By the time she reached thirty-three, however, things had drastically changed. Her insecurities over her ability to be a good parent gave way to the maternal instinct to nurture and love a baby. It was a joyous day when she sat on my living room couch and broke the news to our family that she was pregnant. The whole family rallied around her in excitement, but no one was more excited than my sister.

On January 1, 2006, my sister delivered the most beautiful baby in the world, a sweet little girl weighing 11 pounds, 6 ounces and sporting a natural fauxhawk. My little niece was the greatest gift to us all.

My sister loved her baby so much, but as she sat home with her precious newborn girl, she couldn’t stop imagining horrific accidents befalling her. It was an irrational fear that she simply couldn’t stop from replaying in her mind. Unable to shut it off, she became overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. The most joyous event of all of our lives was becoming, for her, a crippling fear born out of love.

My mother, unfortunately, didn’t understand mental health. She grew up in the era when depression was a taboo subject, something to be ashamed of. To her, someone with schizophrenia, for example, was hearing demons. Her lack of education on the subject blended with her strong faith for a perfect storm of ignorance. Although my sister knew my mother’s perspective on mental health, she was at a point of desperation when she confided in her about the darkness of her fears and anxiety. “It’s demons speaking to you,” insisted my mom with her characteristic certainty. “Pray them away. Just pray them away,” she told her. My mom was sure my sister just didn’t have enough to occupy herself, so she needed to pray away the demons who were stealing her joy.

My mom’s response to my sister’s postpartum depression and her ongoing anxiety and depression is, unfortunately, not uncommon in some Christian circles. Just last year, a wise Christian friend posted a meme on Facebook about prayer as the only means needed to treat depression. For those who live with chronic depression and anxiety, well-meaning spiritual advice can not only be damaging, it can rob them of the life God wants them to live—a life full of joy.

This declaration of mental illness as demons or other supernatural influences is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Bible. In his time here on earth, Jesus healed many lepers and cast out many demons. In the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, any time Jesus heals lepers, the footnote directs us to Leviticus 13 and 14 and the related footnotes, where we learn that leprosy was the traditional Hebrew word for “various diseases affecting the skin,” not the disease we know today. The Bible is a history, spiritual history, and life guidebook from God; it is not, however, a medical textbook for modern Christians. In other words, all the times Jesus healed leprosy, he may have been healing psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, or any number of other skin diseases.

Similarly, it’s important to understand the concept of demon-possession in the Gospels. Just as people of the day didn’t know of the different skin diseases, they didn’t know of the invisible health ailments that affect the body. It seems likely that when Jesus cast out demons, he was frequently casting out figurative demons. Just as having faith to move a Mathew 17:20 mountain doesn’t actually alter the location of Kilimanjaro but offers us faith to battle mountainous problems in our lives, demon possession was likely the ancient world’s understanding of medical ailments. For example, in Luke 11:14, Jesus casts a demon out of a mute man. Unlike in other instances, such as Matthew 8:28, there is no conversation with demons to report. Perhaps this man in Luke 11:14 had a figurative demon, plagued by selective mutism, severe anxiety, aphasia, or another health-related issue that affected his ability to speak.

Similarly, the demon-possessed girl in Mark 7:29 might have been healed from a neuromuscular disease, bipolar disorder, meningitis, or diphtheria. Jesus didn’t come to enlighten the world on medical problems; He would not have set the record straight on people he healed with schizophrenia, polio, or diabetes. Hence, both the people who were healed and the writers of the Gospels would have naturally thought these people were plagued with demons.

Today, we know the difference between aphasia and demon-possession. We know that diabetes can make children lethargic and emotional. Similarly, we know about glutamate and gamma-amino butyric acid deficiencies leading to major depression. We know that prescription drugs can be used to strengthen nerve-cell connections or to restore a balance of neurotransmitters in a person’s brain. There are very effective medications and therapies that change the lives of people who live with mental illness.

Knowing this, telling someone that all they should do is pray away mental illness is to lay on them a burden no one can bear. It implies that their faith or their love for Christ is not strong enough, as if there is something defective about whom they are and about their faith, a defect that gives them mental illness. As one friend with major depression was known to say about people who told her to pray away her condition, “If it was that easy, don’t you think I’d be better already?”

We would never tell ourselves or others to just pray away hypothyroidism, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, kidney disease, blood clots, or other invisible health issues; we would encourage them to seek medical treatment. Why then do we burden people (and ourselves) with the expectation that they should pray away medical issues affecting mental health?

This is not to say that prayer shouldn’t be part of the treatment equation. Whether you are fighting cancer, heart disease, or depression, you should be seeking God’s touch on your body and guidance for the doctors treating you.

Prayer should be part of the treatment equation--whether you have cancer or a #mentalillness. Click To Tweet

In John 15, Jesus instructs us to be a branch connected to Him as the vine and calls us into obedience, saying in verse 11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” People living with anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression should not use the Bible as a crutch to prevent them from treating an illness that robs them of their joy (in Christ or otherwise). Christ came to set us from free the bondage of sin and the need to earn his love through burdensome laws and rituals. Jesus came to set the captives free, not to shackle people with the sadness and fear that comes from untreated mental illness.

Thank God my sister didn’t settle for my mother’s advice. When prayer didn’t prove to be enough, she talked to her doctor, who helped create a treatment plan for managing her postpartum depression and anxiety. My sister tells me, “If I didn’t have medications, I guarantee you I would not be here today.” And, six years after having her first child, she gave birth to another beautiful girl, and there was no recurrence of postpartum depression.

Untreated depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues rob people of a joy-filled life, and too many well-meaning Christians offer advice on praying away mental health issues instead of directing others (and themselves) to seek effective medical care. We know medication and therapy help people with mental illness, so mental illness can’t be of a supernatural origin, from a lack of faith, or the result of demonic influence. After all, real demons don’t respond to pills like mental illness does.

We know medication and therapy help people with #mentalillness; therefore, it can't be of a… Click To Tweet

prayer and mental healthJim Miles has a B.S. in English Education and Bible from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and an M.B.A. frColton Silver Hero (NB)om Augsburg College. He is the author of Hero, a Christian superhero novel for readers aged 10-14. For more information, visit www.coltonsilver.com.

How I Wish the Church Would Treat Those With a Mental Illness

church would treat mental illness

Guest writer Tara Ulrich gives some great advice on how she wishes the church would treat mental illness.

“There are so many board and care facilities in the shadows of our steeples and we don’t even know they are there.” These very words jumped off the page at me as I researched my final paper for my Loss and Grief class during seminary. How often do these words ring true for the church? How can the church be better about reaching out to those who daily struggle with one of the many mental health issues in our world?

I am the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. My mom had a nervous breakdown shortly after my sister was born. Growing up, we didn’t know anything different. Yet growing up, my sister and I kept pretty silent about Mom’s illness because we saw the stigma associated with the illness. We didn’t want others to know that part of our story. We sat in the pews almost every week praying for the sick and those in need yet only our hearts knew that those prayers included prayers we were saying for our mom and our family.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I was 18 years old and working at a Bible camp for the first time that I openly shared about our journey with mental illness. It makes me sad that I didn’t feel comfortable telling our story to anyone especially at church; the one place where we honestly should have been welcomed with open arms. Jesus himself was the first one to break bread with the downtrodden and the outcasts.

I am in no way here to condemn the church or God’s people, because I have been just as guilty as the next person. But I do want to share some ways that I believe the church and God’s people can make a difference in breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health issues.

4 ways the church can help #stopthestigma surrounding #mentalillness. Click To Tweet

1. Get to know me and my mom. Learn what we are passionate about. Share in our hopes and dreams together. But most of all, simply listen to our story and learn from it. “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story”—Brene Brown

2. Learn more about Mental Health by attending a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) convention or read more at their website: www.nami.org. There are so many great resources available on their website.

3. Start a support group in your area. I am so thankful that my mom’s doctor was so good about asking us if we had any questions. It helped me to understand mom’s illness so much better. There is power in knowing you are not alone!

4. Pray for all who daily struggle with mental illnesses and their families. Include them in the prayers of the people during worship. Mark Mental Illness Awareness Month (Oct) and Mental Health Month (May) during worship in one way or another.

5. Shower them with God’s love!

It took me a long time to tell my family’s story, but know I cannot not tell our story since it is so much of who and whose I am. You may not ever fully understand my journey, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, you can reach out to me by simply showing me and my family—especially my mom—and all who suffer with mental health issues God’s love. Together we can embrace who and whose we are; beloved children of God!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Find me today at the #InspireMeMonday link up! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Suspect Someone Has a Mental Health Issue? Read This

expect

People Never Expect to Have a Mental Health Problem

I didn’t expect to hear that my twenty-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in a text message from my sister-in-law—who heard it from someone who came along with the person who came to the emergency department to evaluate Sarah before the hospital released her in the wee hours of the morning (that’s the garbled version I understood of the events that transpired).

It strikes me as a casually callous way to hear the news that Sarah’s life would forever change. One part of me felt immense relief that someone else could finally see that something had gone terribly wrong in Sarah’s mind. The other part of me reeled at the thought that I had missed what now seemed so glaringly obvious.

Admittedly, friends, former teachers, and church members who knew Sarah from high school had reached out to me in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis.

“What’s wrong with Sarah?” they would ask in Facebook messages and text messages. “Is there anything we could do to help?”

I loved them for their concern, and I sent suggestions of calling her, texting her or even sending cards to her. In retrospect, my suggestions seem analogous to fighting a forest fire with buckets of water. Of course, I asked my closest friends to pray for her—and those mighty prayers played a part in saving her life on at least one occasion.

How I wish that someone, anyone, would have looked at her behavior and asked me, “Have you considered that maybe Sarah has a mental illness?” I would have been angry at first—the shock of the suggestion snapping my emotions to full defensive position—but I would have pursued it.

Last October Sarah and I shared our journey on the blog, as part of the #write31days challenge. About two-thirds of the way through the series and before the post explaining about Sarah’s diagnosis went up, one of my roommates from college emailed me.

She had started reading the series midway through the month, and before even going back and starting from the beginning she wrote and asked if Sarah had seen someone to rule out bipolar disorder. My friend had no idea if Sarah and I were writing in ‘real time’ or describing something that had happened in the past, but she cared enough and knew enough about bipolar disorder to reach out and ask the hard questions.

Statistically speaking, with over 5.7 million persons over the age of 18 afflicted by bipolar disorder, more than one of our friends had to have known something about bipolar disorder and seen patterns in Sarah’s behavior that raised red flags.

But in today’s society, where we hesitate to tell someone they have toilet paper trailing from their heel after a visit to the bathroom because we fear offending them, maybe Christians feel it would prove too invasive to question a fellow church member’s mental hygiene.

I suggest that as Christians, we should all strive to speak to each other in love—even about the hard things like mental illness. Whilst Sarah struggled with depression and subsequent mania, I suffered from self-doubt. Perhaps her behavior was normal. Maybe this was just a bid for autonomy—normal behavior for an almost twenty-year-old.

A person in the midst of mania does uncharacteristic things—things that church members gossip about, cluck over and see as a sign that the afflicted person has denied his or her relationship with God. But let’s face it—Christianity doesn’t provide immunity from bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue.

#Christianity doesn't provide immunity from #bipolardisorder. #StoptheStigma Click To Tweet

I suggest that if a young adult you know starts to exhibit girl (or boy) gone wild behavior, you can do the following things.

1. Pray. Before diving in the turbid waters of discussing a possible mental health issue with someone else, ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s his job to convict. Not yours.
2. Educate yourself. Find out the basic signs or indicators of different mental illnesses. The NAMI website is a great place to start.
3. Pick your moment. Don’t bring up your concerns in public.
4. Don’t diagnose. Leave that to the professionals.
5. Start the conversation right. “I’ve noticed that ________ seems to be really struggling right now. Is there anything I can do to help?”
6. Remember that drug and alcohol use or addictions often mask mental health issues.
7. Use nonjudgmental phrases such as, “Have you ever considered that ______ might suffer from bipolar disorder?” If you have personal experience with someone who suffers, you might add additional details. “I know my daughter did a lot of crazy and hurtful things before she was diagnosed, and ________’s behavior reminds me a little of my daughter.”
8. Expect a reaction—most of us live comfortably in denial, so make sure you follow step number one. Don’t be offended if the person reacts with anger or hurt. I often wonder if any of my friends and acquaintances on Facebook saw what was happening and secretly diagnosed Sarah but failed to bring the subject up with me because they feared a negative reaction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—there’s a difference between spiritual oppression and mental illness. God created us smart enough to find medicines and therapies for what ails our bodies—like tuberculosis, whooping cough and cancer. He also created us smart enough to find medicines and develop therapies for what ails our minds.

God expects us to find healing and health for whatever afflicts us—whether it’s physical or… Click To Tweet

What I Wish Christians Knew About Anxiety

anxiety

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges
come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life
is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out
of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and
well-developed, not deficient in any way.

– James 1:2-4 (MSG)

I suppose I’ve always been the melancholy sort. Glass half-full. Everything
that can go wrong will go wrong. Even as a child it was difficult for me to
see the bright side. Instead my eyes were drawn to unseen fears and terrors.

One moment stands out in a lifetime of moments. The night before a
standardized test, I broke out in a rash all over my body. I was so afraid
of failing. No matter what my parents did or said to reassure me, the fear
squeezed my heart tightly. Six years old and already full of dread.

The mind is a strange thing, really. As I slipped off of the shores of
childhood and onto the choppy seas of adolescence, the agonies rose in
direct proportion to the ecstasies. I did very well in school. Had friends.
Participated in the drama club. Held down a steady job. Played basketball.
Yet no matter the accolades, the sense of impending doom simply would not
go away.

Success followed me into college. I studied journalism. Won awards writing
for the paper. Sat at the top of the Dean’s List. But I carried around a
whole lot of dead weight. Terrible relationship choices. Flirting with
anorexia. Panic attacks. One day I couldn’t hold it together anymore and
passed out in the middle of a routine in a Latin social dancing class.

I’d been taught to believe in God. My mother tells me that at age four I
announced, very matter-of-factly, that I had asked Jesus into my heart. I
then went straight back to coloring. Around 10 or 11 I read through 1 and 2
Samuel, captivated by the story of David. My faith was babyish, insecure.
Other things easily pushed it to the back burner.

I never completely forgot God and He certainly never forgot me. Shortly
after my husband and I got engaged, we decided to start attending church. A
few weeks in and we were hit with the, “Gee, we probably shouldn’t sleep
together on Saturday night and go to the church the next morning”
realization. We threw ourselves into cleaning up our lives and into the
life of that church.

A few years, some broken friendships, some disillusionment and the
discovery that marriage isn’t always a picnic later, I sat on the couch in
our living room. A pile of neatly folded laundry to my left. Keys in my
right hand. I felt…nothing. Or so much of something that it didn’t
register. Just numbness. I had crafted my suicide plan and was ready to
carry it out.

This is how I know God never forgot me: My husband came home earlier than
he was supposed to. I didn’t tell him anything. Not immediately. I threw my
keys into my purse and started putting the laundry away. It all came out
the next day, after a session with my counselor. I’d begun seeing her a
couple of months prior to that September day. I knew something was wrong. I
just didn’t know how deep the wrongness went.

I would love to tell you that I was set free from anxiety and depression
after confessing my suicide ideation and slogging through a year-and-a-half
of therapy.

I would love to tell you that I don’t miss the medication that I can no
longer take because of a jacked-up liver.

I never drank or did drugs. I grew a tumor instead. So just about the time
I felt I was stable and doing well, through the disjointed hell of
withdrawal I went. Crying, shaking, sweating, vomiting, the “brain zaps.”
The longest two weeks and then some.

Out with the tumor. A scar running from just beneath my sternum, down
around my rib cage and ending at my waist. For the rest of my life I have
to be careful about what I eat, what I drink, what medications I take. No
more Cymbalta. No herbs, either, because they could cause further damage.

So I’m left sitting here, back where I started in many ways.

This is okay.

The thing about this lifetime of worry and woe is that it’s led me straight
into the arms of Christ. Oh, I’ve been stupid. A real idiot. I’ve made bad
decisions and spent years doing my own thing without caring too much about
Him. I’ve played at religion, going through the right motions on the
outside while wondering if my heart would ever stop being cold. I’ve let
myself be distracted by the pettiest of concerns, the grossest of grudges.
I am not and will never be perfect this side of eternity.

But I know One who is perfect, and He has preserved my life through all of
the rebellion I could control and all of the janky physiology I couldn’t.
His presence is the gift of grace I’ve done nothing to deserve. I am the
greatest of sinners and the slowest of learners, but this I know to be
true: He is my life.

I often wonder why Christian people assume that the anxious and the
depressed have committed some great sin to be afflicted so. My teeth are
set on edge when I hear some claim with great hauteur, “Just confess and
you’ll be healed.” Faulty, shallow theology. Why is there this assumption
that mental illness must equal lack of relationship with God?

You know what they say about assumptions.

My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. They burn away the
inconsequential and insignificant. They move me to fall on my face and
declare with the psalmist:

Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in
silence.

If I say, “My foot
slips,”

Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my
anxieties within me,

Your comforts delight my soul.

– Psalm 94:17-19 (NKJV)

My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet
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Marie Gregg lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with her husband
Chris and two neurotic dogs. She loves studying Scripture, libraries and
chocolate. You can connect with her over at Along
the Way
.