Encouraging, Living, Reaching


Why the Debate About Mental Health?

Why the Debate About Mental Health?

In my last post I shared some of my story. There are several reasons for choosing to do that:

1. I believe that the readers need to know the background of the writer to fully appreciate the things that are written.
2. I believe that there are many believers in our Assemblies that carry a heavy burden in this area without the freedom to share it. They need to know that they are not alone.
3. I believe that there are many caring people who are not struggling with mental illness but do not know how to be supportive and helpful. I believe an open discussion will aid the “helpers” in identifying better with the “sufferers”.
4. I believe that there is a God-given longing in each of us to be transparent and real. This requires sharing our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

The Risks

I recognize that there are also several risks in sharing openly.
1. Some people will discredit everything that I post as being subjective and defensive of my own experience. Some have already chosen to “write me off” because of what I have shared.
2. Every individual’s struggle is unique. Personal experience is not sufficient to deal effectively with other believers’ illnesses. In these posts we can only address a small part of the subject each time. What is shared can leave many unanswered questions and the sense of an unbalanced view. It can be hard to reserve judgment till the whole argument is presented.
3. The attention can be focused too much on one person. This could cause some to miss the greater “objective” discussion of mental illness in the life of the believer.
4. Some might see me as an “expert” on the subject because of my experience and writing on the subject. The more I read the more convinced I am that there is only one expert on the subject, the Holy Spirit. He is the only one that can guide us to truth in this discussion.

SOME OF THE DIFFICULT ISSUES

Perhaps the greatest difficulty that we face in dealing with mental illness is that its symptoms are manifested in every area of our being. It affects body, soul and spirit. It is not always easy to discern where the root of the problem lies. While the physical aspect is a malfunctioning of the brain because of chemical imbalances, it seems impossible to scientifically establish what causes these imbalances.

Many researchers are convinced that, at the very least, the predisposition to these chemical imbalances is passed on genetically. A very significant percentage of mental illness manifests itself in childhood. The physical aspect of mental illness is very real and needs to be addressed for what it is. If this was all there was to mental illness we would simply go to the doctor and address it like we address every other physical illness, but the solution is not so simple.

God’s Created Beings

God created man with spirit, soul (mind, emotions and will) and body, all functioning in perfect harmony. The brain is designed to be the “link” between our inner being and the body. When this link malfunctions, the harmony between our inner reality and our physical body is disrupted. This disruption can be physical, emotional or spiritual. I believe that most often it is a combination of all three. As fallen and sinful people in a fallen and sinful world, we have deep emotional and spiritual damage in our inner beings that are contributors to (and sometimes even the cause of) overloading the brain with stress that leads to its malfunctioning.

In this sense it is true that mental illness is a sin issue. Our sin does aggravate it and original sin and the general curse of sin caused the disharmony in the first place. Other people’s sins against us cause emotional damage that contributes to the problem. The enemy of our souls is an expert at introducing lies into our minds that we believe and then become spiritually weak and unable to function with the spiritual strength that comes from allowing the Spirit to guide us into all truth.

Our inability to logically and rationally draw a clear line between brain and mind, mind and emotions, mind and will, soul and spirit, physical and spiritual, makes it difficult to get a complete understanding of the reality of mental illness.

We also have a real difficulty in clearly separating symptoms from the cause. I believe that much damage has been done addressing symptoms without addressing the cause or even worse, treating symptoms as the cause. We need discernment in these matters that only the Holy Spirit can give us.

Suppressing Emotions

Another big hindrance to overcoming mental illness in our circles is our suppression of the emotional part of our being. Many believers are emotionally numb because they have internalized their emotional struggles and hurts. They feel trapped by the “spiritual” obligation of shallow forgiveness for hurts that they have carried for years and even decades. Instead of patiently helping people to a true and deep forgiveness, we encourage them to immediately “forgive” which too often means “sweep it under the rug”.

True forgiveness requires dealing with the sin for what it really is and coming to a forgiveness that looks more like a funeral than a housekeeping chore. Only this depth of forgiveness can free us emotionally from the sin that is committed against us. Any other “forgiveness” will have to be revisited or it will continue to shackle us all our lives with devastating effects on our mental health. We need brothers and sisters that are willing to face the ugliness of sin, call it what it is, put it to death and bury it for good. This will take time, energy, wisdom, discernment and a lot of love. We need to commit to this level of fellowship in order to see the Lord release fellow believers from their emotional bondage.

Perhaps you are wondering by now if we will ever get to the spiritual aspect. In the next post I would like to begin looking at biblical truths and principles that are key for us as believers in dealing thoroughly with the matter of mental health.

Eddy Plett

Eddy fellowships at Port of Grace Community Church in Port Colbourne, ON. He and his wife Erna served as missionaries in Italy for 9 years before returning to Canada. His longing is to edify the Church through helping believers overcome their personal struggles in order to be all that the Lord wants them to be.

4 Responses to Why the Debate About Mental Health?

  1. Janis Cameron

    Eddy, You made some great points. I would like to add to the heading “Some of the Difficult Issues”. One of the major obstacles is not understanding the hidden pain of emotions and not being educated on the many aspects of mental illness. It is easier to understand the pain of a broken arm rather than the pain of shame or the hyper-vigilance and anxiety a trauma can cause. Typically, lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear lead to isolation. I also agree with you regarding the factors that contribute to the emergence of mental illness. These include biochemical and hormonal, neurological, and behavior, besides the human frailty of sin nature. Finally, when this topic becomes more demystified and recognized as a real need to walk beside the individual and their families, not to “fix it” but to encourage and support without judgment, then whether you have a broken arm or broken spirit, God’s love will be made more visible within our Christian family.

    • Eddy Plett

      Thank you Janis for your contribution. Voices like yours are very much needed in this discussion. You have added some very important points. Thanks again.

  2. Tom

    Thanks for your thoughts, Eddy. I particularly appreciate the distinction you observe between body, soul and spirit where mental health issues are concerned, as it seems to me that mental illness does not only manifest in all three areas but can also arise out of problems with any or all of them, as well as through hardship and trying circumstances.

    My own experiences with depression were short term, and related in the one instance to ongoing sin prior to turning to the Lord, and in the other to a lengthy period of unemployment while my wife was pregnant and working. Deprived of a normal routine and alone with our thoughts, those of us who are reflective by nature can become overoccupied with the contents of our own heads, take failure more personally than others might, experience paranoia, panic and inertia. I did not anticipate this or manage it well and six months of unemployment made me nearly unrecognizable to myself (and surely others).

    In the first instance, the depression lifted when I repented; in the second, when the Lord led me to take a job that six months earlier I would have been too proud to even consider.

    I recognize this is not the sort of depression you are primarily concerned with in your articles, but my observation is that in counseling others who are suffering, it is tremendously difficult (if not impossible) to tell where the sort of depression caused by circumstances and sin and the sort triggered by genetics, chemicals in the brain, abuse, bad lifestyle choices, etc. begin and end. Quite often a person’s depression, I believe, is a result of any number of these issues muddled together a toxic cocktail of despair.

    Under such circumstances, the well-meaning and naive Christian who thinks the problem is simply “sin” is not entirely wrong, but his remedy is next to useless.

    Long way to get to my question. Sorry. Here goes: In your experience, is there any way for a caring parent, friend or spouse to distinguish symptoms or identify root causes in a loved one who is suffering?

    I’d love to see you write further on the subject. Thanks again.

    • Eddy Plett

      You ask a very good question that is not easy to answer. It is my understanding that there are several factors to consider in evaluating the cause. Because mood disorders are generally accepted to be genetic, family history needs to be considered. Another thing to look for is whether there is a specific stressful or traumatic circumstance that occurred to trigger the sadness. One of the signs that it is related to a certain circumstance can be temporary relief from the “depression” when the stress is not present. Mood disorders caused by chemical imbalance are generally present over a long period of time and not as much altered by circumstances. Some professionals would say that the best way to determine the difference, if it is not clear, is to take the medication for a mood disorder. Since all the medication does is restore the ability to think properly it will not relieve the sadness brought on by difficult circumstances. These are my thoughts based on my personal experience and reading. I recommend reading the book “Emotionally Free” by Dr. Grant Mullen. It has been a very helpful resource for me.

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