Caring for our Fellow Believers’ Mental Health
When I was younger, I learned that in Hebrew culture, even the oldest and wisest among the people is known as a wise student. In the mind of a Jewish person, when a person stops learning, they start dying. To quote an old axiom, “learning is for life, and life is for learning.” We should never think that we’ve figured everything all out; in fact, the more I learn the more I realize how much I need to learn. Education is not the end of discovery; it is the tip of the iceberg in a lifelong journey of discovery. All of life is a teachable moment; we should be careful not to miss the opportunity.
When I received my Master of Divinity, I knew that I still had a lot to learn. When I received my Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling, I was even more convinced of how little I knew. I have met people whose highest pedigree was a high school diploma, but they never stopped learning. They had much wisdom to share. I have also met people with PhDs and MDs who clearly stopped learning at some point and had given up. When a person stops learning, they start dying – maybe not physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually this is true.
One example of unwillingness to learn is called “confirmation bias.” It is the tendency for someone to interpret and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values, even when confronted with clear and contrary information. It is shown when they display a bias and select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes. The effect is strongest for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs. Confirmation bias cannot be eliminated entirely, but it can be managed, for example, by education and training in critical thinking skills.
One area that I believe that we as Christians can grow is understanding mental health issues and stigma attached to mental health illness. I have heard Christians use the argument that mental health illnesses are not real because they have never experienced them. That is a foolish argument. There are lots of things in this sin-broken world which I have not experienced personally, but nonetheless exist. I have never had malaria, but millions around the world suffer from it every year. When fellow believers are treated as suspect or deceitful because we have not experienced what they experience, how is that showing the love of Christ? Christ cared for the whole person: body, mind and soul. Christ redeemed the whole person: body, mind and soul. As believers, we can love our neighbor and care for his or her needs: body, mind and soul.
First, take time to learn and understand. If you have someone in your life who has mental illness, don’t mock and do not ignore them. Listen to them and try to understand how to best love and support them on the road to mental wellness. If you are a friend or neighbor, there are many good resources. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness,
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.
- 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
With those statistics, even if you never suffer from mental health issues, there is a high likelihood that someone in your family or circle of friends has or will experience mental illness.
As Christians, we recognize that our worldview may be different than many in our culture. So, I close with a word of consideration. To be teachable means that we must be open to listening and learning, but it does not mean that we accept all that we hear. Otherwise, we might find ourselves as those who are “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14, NIV). To be teachable in a biblical manner demands that we also exercise discernment; that like the Bereans, who even though they received their instruction from the Apostle Paul himself “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, NIV). Let us stay humble and stay hungry and ask God for the wisdom to understand, living as His teachable children.
See you next time, here at the corner of faith and mental health.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Chad Wright