By Jessica Brodie
Mental illness runs in my family. Like some families have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, my family members sometimes struggle with chemical imbalances in the brain.
Personally, I just experience a bit of anxiety now and then, and it’s something I manage through prayer and other spiritual practices, but that’s not the case for a few of my relatives. It’s not their fault, nothing they caused or did wrong, but that saying, “Better living through medication?” That could be a family motto.
So when my young daughter started experiencing major anxiety and panic attacks a couple of years ago, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I knew what to do, took her to the counselor, and two years later, not only is she doing just fine but she wants to write a book to help other kids know what to do when they struggle with anxiety.
And still, this is not something I talk about terribly often. I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed about it, but I also know not everybody understands mental illness doesn’t equate to “psycho nut” or “crazy” or any of the other negative labels we tend to slap on people who struggle sometimes with psychological disorders.
As I write this, it’s been about a week since I attended the daylong mental health symposium hosted by the Hartsville District. I was covering it for a story in the Advocate (see article, here). And a week later, nuggets of wisdom and grace from that event are still jumping out at me. Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent, talked about how as a society we tend to separate those who are different, and this is not a good thing. Speaker Zenethia Brown talked about her own struggle with depression and anxiety and how we need to realize that when we have a headache, we’re fully accustomed to reaching into the medicine cabinet and taking an Advil, so why is it not the same when we have a mental disorder or imbalance. Why shouldn’t we just feel as comfortable reaching into our medicine cabinet to take Prozac or another helpful medication? Speaker Rob Cottingham talked about how we need to address suicide from a medical perspective.
It’s time we took the shame out of the equation. Millions of Americans struggle with mental illnesses. Some of these are major and some are minor. It’s not something they can control, and it’s not something they can just “get over” or fix with the right spiritual mindset
It’s also something our churches should begin to start addressing soon if we are not doing so already.
One of the speakers, Jill Crossgrove, talked about how when someone is seeking recovery from addiction, they recover by creating a new life where it’s easier not to use. The church can be that new life. We can begin to create places were people feel loved and accepted no matter their circumstances.
If we can make all our churches a place where people can talk freely about their problems and their struggles without being judged or stigmatized, if we can make our churches places where support groups are available and Bible studies address issues like how to cope with depression as a Christian and other similar topics, then maybe people who are struggling with mental illness can find their congregation to be a solace and a refuge instead of further turning into themselves, further becoming isolated. They can be part of the whole and full body of Christ.
The Advocate is hoping churches will share what they are doing in their congregations and communities to reach out and be in ministry with people with mental illness. What is your church doing? What are you thinking about starting? We want to know, and we want to share that with other United Methodist churches across South Carolina and beyond. (Email your stories to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We are all in this together, and we need to start talking honestly and openly about a real issue many of our neighbors are facing and not make it feel like a “dirty dark secret,” something to be hidden away.
By shining light, we can illuminate the darkness and drive it away.