There was one flaw in my plan to wake up screaming–I wasn’t asleep.
This was not a nightmare, at least not in the literal sense. Although surreal, this was real—I was really pinned to my apartment floor, three people from Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, really were yelling at Satan, said people really were attempting to perform an exorcism without my consent. My illness had finally caused a conflict so severe it drove me out of that church and almost out of Christianity. Sad, because spirituality can be a powerful aid to healing from borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Critical Religious Attitudes Toward People with Severe Mental Illness
Studies show that religious faith can speed recovery from depression, possibly by offering one hope. Sadly, one’s place of worship may not be the sanctuary one hopes it to be. Here are a few of the comments I’ve heard from misinformed people of faith:
“You foolish person! You’ve just called God a liar because you don’t have the joy of the Lord.”
“Depression is straight from the pit of Hell.”
“If you just had enough faith and truly wanted to be healed you would be.”
“You need to go off your medication and trust God for your healing.”
“Do you feel like you’re under demonic oppression? … I know someone who has a chemical imbalance and it’s demonic oppression.”
“A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way you can truly be set free from depression because he not only can heal the spirit but he heals the soul, which makes up your mind, your will and your emotions.”
You can probably add your own. But that’s not the way it should be.
How Ministers Can Help
How can ministers help people with mental illness? In Howard J Clinebel’s The Mental Health Ministry of the Local Church, featured at http://www.religion-online.org, Clinebel identifies the responsibilities of a minister to an individual with mental illness. He writes “The clergyman has a responsibility to both the ill person and his family.” He identifies the responsibilities to the ill person as:
• Recognize the problem as mental illness without attempting to diagnose it
• Aid the person in finding psychiatric help (or if the person is unwilling or unable to accept help, aid the family in making an involuntary commitment)
• Providing a supportive pastoral relationship during treatment, whether it is hospitalization or outpatient treatment
• Maintaining a close relationship and offer pastoral counseling during the post-treatment days, without fostering dependency
How Laypeople Can Help
Some training should be offered to laypeople desiring to help those with severe mental illness. This training should include:
• How to recognize the symptoms of mental illness
• How to know when a person needs professional help
• Knowledge of where to refer a mentally ill individual
It is important to treat the individual suffering from mental illness with respect, love, compassion, grace, and dignity. Pastor Ryan Ahlgrim of First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis writes “This is the real heart of the matter, to be loved and treated with dignity. Mental illness often puts up blocks in relationships and friendships. But this is because we want relationships that are easy, that benefit us, or that feel productive. But I believe that the presence of mental illness, as well as other disabilities, reminds us that life and relationships are not about productivity and cost-effectiveness and convenience. We’re here to love and be loved. I do not have it in my power to fix my mentally ill friends. Some of them will continue to do things that are, from my perspective, counter-productive. So do I give up on them, or do I give up my need to have a ‘productive’ relationship? Can I simply enjoy who they are and being their friend? I have decided to enjoy them, value them as full human beings, and offer ‘nonproductive’ kindness. We are all, in God’s eyes, the recipients of undeserved grace. So none of us has a value-advantage over another. Let us treat each other with grace.”