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FIRST-PERSON: Struggles with mental illness not ‘just a spiritual problem’

BOLIVAR, Mo. (BP)–There are some Christians who believe that mental illness is just a spiritual problem. They may be the same folks who see a person who is schizophrenic and conclude the person is “demon possessed.”

These people are the ones who conclude, “Jesus is called ‘Counselor,’ therefore Christians do not need to see a human counselor.” They see absolutely no need for a profession such as mine, whereas I tend to see what I do as a calling.

You, no doubt, know about the mindset of which I speak. These are the folks who say, “If you just pray hard enough and read your Bible, you will be fine. You would never need to see a counselor.” Using the same logic, Jesus was also called the “Great Physician.” Yet Christians do not suggest that if you are a Christian you should not see a doctor when you are physically ill.

Several years ago, I was working for a denominational system which believed the church needed to be open to such human problems. I happened to be talking to a layman about my work and I indicated that we would be working with pastors and their families.

At that, the layman said indignantly, “Then that person should not be a pastor.” I explained that such a pastor would be full of integrity to admit his need, and that pastors are no different from their church members.

Emotional problems and mental illness are human problems. Christians are human and therefore subject to these kinds of problems.

It has been pretty well demonstrated that bi-polar illness (manic-depression), depression and some other disorders are the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Certain mood disorders may be the result of bio-chemical imbalances in the body.

The purpose of medications is to bring a systemic balance to the person who is experiencing a mood disorder or mental disorder. Medications can be essential to treating such difficulties.

Research shows that for the treatment of major depression, medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy) are the most effective treatment. Medications alone, or psychotherapy alone, are not as effective as a combination of the two.

Many years ago, when I was connected with a university, a young lady came to me very depressed. On her second visit, she assured me that everything was wonderful because in a prayer group her friends had prayed for her. Now she had no more problems.

Within a few months, she was dead as the result of suicide. The young lady was suffering from a bi-polar disorder. In this case, some good-intentioned Christians were rather dangerous for her.

I am not saying that prayer and Bible study are not effective. I believe they are.

But just because some Christians make judgmental statements which disparage counselors and medications for emotional and mental illnesses, don’t let that keep you from seeking the help you may need.
Kemp is a marriage and family therapist in Bolivar, Mo.

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  • Ron Kemp