Dr. Sharon Smith spoke in our Sunday Service a few weeks ago….and what great insights into how we should view mental health in view of our faith and in Church. This is my little summary of the gems I gleaned from it. If you can, I totally recommend listening to it here too because I won’t be covering everything she touches on.
It’s important to consider the progress or regression as along a spectrum where an invisible line divides between mental health, and a mental illness experience.
Mental Health <————————–|————————–> Mental Illness Experience
This is a huge difference from how our medical system sees it. You get diagnosed with a condition and well, that’s it. Labeling someone as having mental illness keeps them in that category and doesn’t give them the sense they can be anything else. Dr Smith challenges this with this idea…that EVERYONE crosses into a mental illness EXPERIENCE territory at least once in their lives. It can be triggered by a combination of external environmental stressors, physical/spiritual health and what kind of community you have around you….but a key point is that EVERYONE will falter in their mental health. Some have a more vulnerable mind than others and simple triggers can slide them into another mental illness experience. Another key point that I REALLY appreciate is that we CAN slide back into mental health! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Is mental illness always Satan’s doing? If only the answer was that easy! The short answer is “no”. Dr. Smith shared an illustration of how wolves hunt by running through a herd of sheep and scattering them in order to expose the weakest members of the flock. Maybe the flock ran from the weak sheep, or maybe this sheep mistakenly separated itself…but it became isolated and targeted. A person’s physical and spiritual health as well as the strength and closeness of their community plays together to affect someone’s mental health. A pill may address a chemical issue for a short while, but unless a person’s physical, spiritual and community health is also addressed, mental health is harder to reach.
One part of Dr. Smith’s message that really struck me is regarding how the Church community deals with mental health. It’s easy to see someone with broken leg and know to help them, accommodate, etc but it’s harder to see someone who’ve crossed that “line” into mental health issues and accomodate them. She quoted someone as saying, “Mental illness in church slows down the church to rethink their theology” — there are no easy answers around how mental illness fits into God’s “good plans”. “Life is hard, but God makes good of those hard spaces. He transforms the person and the community around him/her. Jesus didn’t come to take suffering away; He came to fill it with His presence.” So what does this say the Church is to do? Our call is to make tender places for people in vulnerable times. To rally around, accomodate and support those individuals. This makes me take a hard look at my responses and attitudes towards people around me. I confess I have a LOT of growing to do in the area of creating tender spaces in my life for people in vulnerable times. God help me.
I really don’t know how to summarize this GREAT message further, so please listen to the online version. I’ll just end with some practical mental health practices Dr. Smith shared with us:
STOP trying to read people’s minds. You guess at their meanings, you make your assumption real to yourself and it increases anxiety and worry. This eats away at your mental health.
- Celebrate the baby physical steps towards mental health (whether your own or someone else’s). Maybe it’s making a diet change (sugar, alcohol and caffiene negatively impact mental health!) or maybe it’s just getting outside for a short walk. As a person physically moves towards health, the mind and spirit moves in that direction too.
- If walking with someone in a mental illness experience, don’t take away what is hard for that person to deal with. This takes away their motivation to take the necessary hard steps towards wellness. It also could impact your OWN mental health.