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Are Christianity and Mental Health Issues Compatible?


Is there a Balance between an Awesome God and Mental Health?

             I sit in my office and deal daily with patients that have dual-diagnosis; they suffer from addictions to alcohol, crack, pot, and any number of substance and life controlling problems.  However, that is not the worst of it, some also struggle daily with the problems of mental health issues.  Issues such as depression, anxiety, post trauma stress disorder, Bi-polar, and this list could go on.

            Each of these issues in there own right could cause serious life problems for the individual.   They cause arguments, miscommunication, frustration, anger, resentment, and who knows how long this list could be.  Family members want the individuals to just do what is right, get over it, pull themselves up and move on, don’t sit around an mope all day.  The individual has a sense of confusion, why am I this way?  But the despair and inability to kick these feeling just keeps looming overhead, and frustration and confusion are the norm of the day.

          I talk with family members that believe that I along with others in the health care community are the miracle worker of the century, that we can tell them it’s OK and it will change.  If a family member enters treatment for a few weeks, and goes to a few meetings they will all get better.  The sad part is that at one time I believed this too.  I have spent over 20 years in pastoral ministry serving from the children’s pastor, youth pastor, to the pastorate.  I visited church member at the psychiatric wards, and had no clue why they were there.  The doctor would describe symptoms and diagnosis such as Bi-Polar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, even something called depression.  I remember visiting the psychiatric ward of Children’s hospital, and them describing Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, and separation anxiety disorder.

I would leave confused, because in my mind I serve an Awesome God, who could and would heal if these people would just pray and believe.   Twenty years ago I entered the Chemical Dependency field as a counselor.  I began to develop and understanding of addiction and the mental health of individuals.  As my counter parts within the faith-based community I continued to struggle with mental health issues.  Then one day I sat with a very special individual that taught me the power of God.  He shared the story of the Apostle Paul praying three times for God to remove the thorn from his life.  God’s reply was “My Grace is Sufficient for you.”   As he continued, he shared a very interesting point, Paul never states what the thorn is, therefore, we can place our thorns or burden there and remember “Gods Grace is Sufficient for me.”   He took me back many years ago at the age 19 when my personal family Doctor diagnosed me with arthritis, and I have been on medication for years, does that make my faith any less?  God grace continues to be sufficient for me to continue to walk and function in a normal manner even when it hurts.

That individual has been one of my dearest friend, and remains one my mentors for in the field of counseling.  I’m learning that “God Grace is sufficient” to help individuals that suffer from any mental health issue.  I now have the privilege to serve as Assistant Minister and as a Substance Abuse Counselor, working with a number of patients in my counseling position that bring this long list of dual-diagnosis with them to treatment.  The ironic thing is as pastor’s we work with individuals that may have mental health issues, without knowing it.  We sit sorting through the emotional baggage that has taken them on a ride of destruction.  Today, I still believe without reservation that “God is an Awesome God.   However, now I look at the mental health profession with the same respect and admiration as I do the medical professional.  I have seen first hand the effects of medication for treating anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 Research has shown that some mental health issues are a result of chemical imbalance within the brain.  Some within the faith-community would like to debate this issue, and place all issues of mental health within the spiritual realm.  If they would only pray and trust God.  However, we have seen from brain scans, and research done by both the medical community and mental health community that there are some biological causes that can contribute to mental health issues.

I have seen people sit and communicate with a therapist of their choice and begin the process of making sense of what is happening in their life.  I personally feel that most mental health issues a person address is the result of events that have happen in the past and the individuals current inability to sort thorough them without help.  The individual that struggles with depression and loneliness, as a result of a father leaving the home at young age.  They function normally most of the times, but events happen and they become depressed due to their concept of loss.  Or the individual that have what is called Anti-social personality and can’t get along with anyone because, as a child mom passed away, and everyone else helped dad raise the child, and boundaries are not a word he likes to hear. The feeling that society gave him a raw deal is now reason to make everyone else’s life miserable.

What do we do?  If I had that answer, I would write a book, do the talk show circuit, and become famous.  But honestly don’t see that all happening.  What I see is individuals within the professional community of mental health, and the faith-community coming together to help people to find solutions and skills to cope with these major issues in their life.  Mental health is not about individuals being crazy, it about individuals that need a loving and awesome touch from God, and a helping caring hand from family and friends.  With the additional help of whatever resource weather it is a medical doctor with medication, professional psychologist with years of training in mental health issues, or a pastor that just loves them where they are.  Together we can and will make the difference.

 

 

 

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