May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness, mental health, and how we can offer support to one another. Within the Christian community, this is also a time of unprecedented attention on the topic of mental illness, after the tragic news that Matthew Warren, son of high-profile pastor Rick Warren and wife Kay, died by suicide after a lifelong struggle with mental illness.
In honor of this month's focus on mental health, we spoke with Amy Simpson, author of the brand-new book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission.
Tell us why you decided to write about mental illness and the church.
It started with my own family's experience. My mother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has spent time in hospitals, homeless shelters, and prison. Her illness affected my family profoundly, especially after her symptoms became much more pronounced when I was a young teenager. For the following 20-plus years, we didn't talk much about what was happening with her at home. We didn't feel it was okay to discuss mental illness with others, so we mostly kept quiet about it when we were away from home too. The church, like other places, was mostly silent on this issue and didn't offer much of the kind of help we needed. We felt very isolated, as if we were the only ones going through the experience.
As I got older and pursued healing for my own wounds, I sought to understand my mom's illness and how it affected me. I started learning about how common mental illness is—my family was far from alone in our experience. I read other people's stories and realized how similar they were to ours. I began to understand that the church's lack of engagement was affecting many more people than just my family. God began to nudge me toward writing on this topic as a ministry to others and a challenge and encouragement to the church.1