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Mental Illness is No Laughing Matter

Mental Illness is No Laughing Matter

How the church can better respond to individuals suffering in darkness
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Throughout history, mental illness has met with confusion, misunderstanding and mistreatment—even horror, persecution and torture. Though we have made progress in fits and starts, people with mental illness have never had more hope for productive life than they have now. But despite the progress, we live in a society that is still deeply confused about mental illness.

Misinformed by the media

Have you ever paid attention to the way people with mental illness are portrayed in popular media? While some outlets treat mental illness with honesty and sensitivity, most of popular media treats the mentally ill as frightening, funny, or both. Most people don't seem to give it a second thought, but for people whose loved ones suffer from ongoing mental illness, such portrayals are hard to ignore.

Try watching movies like Psycho, Strange Brew, Crazy People, The Shining, Misery, and Fatal Attraction through the eyes of someone who struggles with mental illness. Or turn on the TV this week and watch with a new perspective. On any given evening, you should be able to find at least one show that either reinforces terror of the mentally ill, or makes light of their illness for a cheap laugh.

Misinformation, as well as entertainment that pokes fun at people with mental illness—and in some cases encourages laughter at the idea of their mistreatment—accomplishes three things:

  1. It further marginalizes and dehumanizes people with mental illness by treating them as caricatures. It's easy to laugh if we forget we're laughing at real people suffering from real illnesses.
  2. It encourages persecution and mistreatment.
  3. It discourages people from seeking help for mental illness. In an environment that vacillates between mockery and horror, who wants to be the one to raise a hand and say, "Yeah, that's me. I need to go to the doctor to get my medication adjusted."

Serious mental illness has mythological status in our culture. No wonder so many people in the church—just like those outside the church—have no idea how to relate to a real person who acknowledges or displays a mental illness. This general societal misunderstanding of mental illness affects all of us.

Creating a loving Christian response

In her book Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, Kathryn Greene-McCreight shares journal entries, stories and spiritual insights from her experience living with bipolar disorder. She mentions this about Christians' response to mental illness: "Christian communities still have a fear of the mentally ill. In part they do not understand mental illness, in part there is a false assumption that the Christian life should always be an easy path, and in part the problem of suffering is hard to grasp."

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Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the managing editor of marriage and parenting resources for Today's Christian Woman and the editor of GiftedForLeadership.com. Connect with Amy at amysimpsononline.com.

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Very True

September 15, 2013  12:04pm

especially when there are many women today that are like this, and it may have a lot to do with the divorce rate being so very high nowadays too.

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mel

July 23, 2013  9:55pm

Thank you for sharing this article in such an articulate way. I have endured a lengthy and recurring series of depression. I sometimes struggle because I know that as I get to know my savior and obey His statutes, I become more and more free. Sometimes its two forward and anywhere from one to three back. But He is changing me. I can actually see it in myself now. But during times of struggle I resist sharing with my brothers and sisters because of the way some can respond without mercy or compassion because it is...insert your christianese term that brings shame here. I have been blessed with a godly counselor, there needs to be more educated the way God works in our healing process. He does not heal everyone instantly. I tell people that "I see men as trees walking." In other words, I am halfway there, Hallelluiah!!

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Robert Millward

May 12, 2013  5:03am

I am always glad to be humbled by conversations like this one. Most days I have to admit that I know very little about mortality but I have a bright hope that Jesus Christ will replace all components of mortality with glorious new components. Until then we suffer with diseased bodies, diseased wills, diseased hopes, and yes diseased minds. While Jesus did not, himself, appear to suffer from mental illness, I am confident he understood it and had compassion on those who did and I pray that I can have a measure of that compassion. If living the Christian life was to bring instant and permanent healing then Jesus would never have felt the pain of awareness of the killing of all those dear children under two years old while his family fled to Egypt let alone a miserable, naked death on the cross.

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