Churches Must Reach Out to those Suffering from Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Schizophrenia FeaturedWritten by Michael Ireland
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS, October 10, 2015) -- Rick and Kay Warren launched Saddleback Church's second Gathering on Mental Health and the Church this week (Oct. 8/9) with a call for faith communities to take the lead in caring for those with mental illnesses.
According to the Christian Examiner (http://tinyurl.com/p3v7w7w), in the opening session of the conference, Rick Warren, Saddleback's founding pastor, argued the church has a biblical, historical and practical responsibility to make a priority of caring for those with mental illnesses.
"Churches are typically the first organization families in pain reach out to," Warren said. "When a family is having a mental-health crisis, they don't go first to their lawyer. They don't go to their accountant. They don't even go to the police or the doctor or even the principal. Usually, the first person they call is the church."
After teaching why the church must take the lead on mental illness, Warren shared five theological foundations that must define the church's mental health ministries. Those foundations are:
Every person has dignity because they are made by God, they are made in God's image and they are made for God's purposes and for God's glory.In our fallen, imperfect world, all of us are broken.Even though we're broken, we're still deeply loved and deeply valuable.We get well in community.What isn't healed on earth is healed in heaven.
In 2013, Warren, author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life," and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, had the unenviable task of announcing that his 27-year-old son, Matthew, had taken his own life, according to an ASSIST News Service report at that time (http://www.oldassistnews.net/Stories/2013/s13040029.htm).
On that occasion, in an anguished message sent to the church staff, Warren wrote: "Over the past 33 years we've been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I've been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.
"You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.
"But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.
That day, Warren said that Matthew, “after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, (he) took his life."
In January 2005, ASSIST News reported that Johnnie Carl, Crystal Cathedral’s 57-year-old musical director took his own life as the result of Bi-Polar Disorder. (http://www.oldassistnews.net/Stories/2005/s05010127.htm)
Last year, this reporter had the opportunity to hear firsthand the story of broadcast journalist Jane Pauley and her struggle with Bi-Polar Disorder (http://www.oldassistnews.net/Stories/2012/s12060086.htm).
A search of the ASSIST News Service archives for ‘mental illness’ reveals this news agency has over the years covered the topic of the famous, and not-so-well-known, who suffer from this affliction or another disabling psychological condition.
Unfortunately, there is still stigma – and much misunderstanding -- surrounding Christians and mental illness, which often deters or discourages Christians from seeking the professional help they need.
While great strides forward have been made in the religious world as far as personal and theological understanding of mental illness, many believers – those who suffer and those who don’t – still walk around with faulty thinking on the ‘causes’ and ‘cures’ for this malady, which statistics say strikes one in five people. This means that Christians are not immune.
In January 2013, ABC News reported that one in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (http://www.samhsa.gov). About 5 percent of Americans have suffered from such severe mental illness that it interfered with day-to-day school, work or family. (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/19/1-in-5-americans-suffer-from-mental-illness).
Women were more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than men, 23 percent of women versus 16.9 percent of men, and the rate of mental illness was more than twice as likely in young adults 18 to 25 than people older than 50.
About 11.4 million adult Americans suffered from severe mental illness in the past year and 8.7 million adults contemplated serious thoughts of suicide. Among them, more than 2 million made suicide plans and about 1 million attempted suicide.
Nearly 2 million teens, or 8 percent of the adolescent population, experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The research defined a major episode as at least a two-week period when a person is depressed with a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, while also experiencing at least four of seven symptoms defined in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Only about 60 percent of people with mental illness get treatment each year, according to the report, and whites and Native Americans were more likely to seek help than African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.
Researchers drew the findings from nearly 70,000 surveys on mental health and addiction among children and adults.
On a personal note, this reporter has also been afflicted by this horrible disorder.
Over the years since I was diagnosed, I have sought the help of medical professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, including Christian pastors and ministers, as well as the understanding of family and friends.
This disorder can be described as a “living hell” because of the twists and turns during its course, and its dramatic effects on one’s behavior and lifestyle, not to mention how it affects one’s family, friends, and other loved ones.
I was first diagnosed with a mental disorder following a nervous breakdown in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. My diagnosis at that time was Schizophreniform, which is a term that covers a form of illness which displays itself as Schizophrenia, but which has not yet been determined to be full-blown Schizophrenia. Mental illness is often hereditary, and my mother suffered from Schizophrenia.
At the time of my first breakdown, there were not enough beds in the psychiatric ward of the local mental hospital, so I was treated at my parents’ home, with weekly domiciliary visits from my local physician. It took me four weeks to recover with the help of rest, medication, and the love and care of my parents and friends. All I did was eat, sleep, and take medication.
I experienced a second nervous breakdown, in fact another psychotic episode – psychosis is a condition where the patient loses contact with reality – in the summer of 1982, after returning from a whirlwind visit to the United States.
On that occasion, I was hospitalized for four weeks and under the care of a psychiatrist. Once again the diagnosis was similar, this time identified as Schizo-affective Bi-polar Disorder. I was treated with rest and medication, and it was then I learned I would need to take anti-psychotic medicines for the rest of my life to prevent a relapse.
In talking about her bout with Bi-Polar Disorder at the 2012 annual dinner of People Incorporated in St. Paul, Minnesota, former NBC journalist Pauley explained that her sister in-law is a medical reporter and a good ‘explainer.’
“She says the brain is made up of ‘many working parts’ as she describes it. One part of the brain she says is key in Bi-polar. A bundle of nerve cells called the singulate. The singulate is a kind of chemical electrical switch for people with Bi-polar -- it’s overly sensitive. It has a hair-trigger.”
Pauley continued: “My parents never had that thought that the brain is wired. My children wouldn’t think any other way. I describe putting information on my hard drive; I have the memory of an Etch-A-Sketch. Never mind that I don’t know what a hard drive is, or that I’m still pretty amazed by the Etch-A-Sketch!”
Pauley explained the technology we use every day has rewired our brains.
“We think differently about the brain today. Here’s a useful analogy. In my 1950’s childhood, ‘Outer Space’ was where Martians and invading ‘Space Aliens’ came from. But when I was a teen-ager in the sixties, the phrase ‘Outer Space’ was replaced by a new phrase – ‘Space Program.’ We were in a race to get there, to explore space.”
Pauley said that ‘messaging matters.’
“Now hope is far more potent to change minds than fear. When I think of hope, I think of Michael J. Fox,” said Pauley, who has interviewed Fox on several occasions, including quite recently.
“Now Parkinson’s will be conquered or cured by hope,” said Pauley, “but it will never be defeated without it. Fox told me a story. He talks about waiting for an elevator in the mirrored vestibule of his apartment building just as his meds were starting to wear off and catching a glimpse of a bent and shaking old man, and realized he was looking at his own reflection. What did he do? He winked!
“He is such an inspiration because of his commitment to find a cure for Parkinson’s, which by the way, is a neighbor to Bi-polar in the same deep region of the brain, but also for refusing to be defined by his limitations. Living his life as fully as it can be lived. Remember what he called his memoir? ‘Lucky Man.’”
Pauley said Michael J. Fox is the first to point out that he doesn’t happen to suffer from depression, which many people with Parkinson’s do suffer from, and depression produces isolation, and isolation is the curse of mental illness.
Pauley concluded: “I’d like to close with a story that I heard told by a Nobel Laureate. The daughter of Sigmund Freud’s best friend -- which is kind of a funny thought that Sigmund Freud would have a best friend. So this is a young woman, who is studying to be a psychoanalyst who was finally required to undergo psychoanalysis herself, and she wanted the great man Freud to do it. He was reluctant because of their personal relationship, but finally he relented. And later, when the analysis was completed he is said to have told her ‘I always liked you, but now that I know you have problems, I like you more.’”
Once again on a personal note, I have found that without the presence of God, through faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, together with the help of the Word of God and medications, the love, care and understanding of friends and family, and the help and counsel of a psychiatrist and psychologist, I would not be able to function and live a stable and productive life.
In my research and attempts to better understand my illness, and from years of personal experience with the illness, I have discovered that mental illness -- and Bi-Polar Disorder in particular – is cyclical in nature. I have found that living in the Upper Midwest, where the change in seasons is more dramatic, my disorder does indeed, afflict me in a cyclical pattern. Those who know me well realize that I am going to suffer episodes of ‘poorer’ mental health moods with the change between longer, darker days and the onset of more dreary weather of the Fall and Winter months and then again when Spring and Summer roll around and when the longer, brighter days arrive and I experience happier days and more energy.
Having noticed this pattern, I take measures to minimize the effects the seasons have on my body and my psyche. I have learned what works for me to manage and cope with the Disorder. I have also learned some coping skills to deal with stress, which is a known trigger for Bi-Polar Disorder. My therapist calls this my ‘Toolkit.’ It is full of tips and tricks to manage the illness. Among these are ‘Staying in the Now,’ ‘Taking One Thing at a Time,’ ‘Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,’ ‘Floating,’ and ‘Letting Time Pass.’ It also includes, ‘Seeking Help from Others When Overwhelmed.’
I would urge those who believe they or a loved one may have a mental or psychological illness not to be ashamed, but to seek out all the available help they can find to achieve a stable thought and mood condition, and to pursue a happy and productive life. Mental illness is treatable.
To find resources, search for "DEPRESSION," “BIPOLAR DISORDER” or “MENTAL ILLNESS” on the Internet at www.google.com or contact your local mental health provider listed in the telephone directory for your area. Your local hospital or medical clinic should also be able to provide you with information on getting the treatment help you need.
If you or your loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 911 immediately. Most police departments have at least one or two officers who are trained to do a Social Welfare (Mental Health) Evaluation and can also put you or your loved one in touch with mental health professionals.
My word to the wise: Don’t Mess With Mental Illness. Get help. It is possible to learn coping and management skills for this affliction.
Photo captions. 1) Rick and Kay Warren pictures outside Saddleback Church (OC Register. 2) Matthew Warren. 3) Part of the crowd at an earlier gathering on Mental Health. 4) Jane Pauley. 5) Logo 6) The Saddleback Church gathering. 7) Michael Ireland
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael's stories for ANS.
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