Deirdre sat there, speaking rapidly and at times, seeming to forget to breathe. We were meeting to conduct an intake screening to see if she was eligible for services at the clinic where I worked. Doing what I could to keep the setting calm, I asked questions geared to help us get to the reason for Deirdre’s visit. Yet, she seemed to become more agitated as time went on. She fidgeted, at time dabbed at tears, and would lean in whenever she suspected she wasn’t being understood.
Deirdre recalled times her disruptive thoughts gave way to unwanted behaviors and breakdowns in her relationships. She spoke of being quick tempered, unable to sleep throughout the night, and at times having thoughts of self-harm due to a lack of reprieve.
When Deirdre began to speak of her faith and feeling she was inadequate because that faith was not enough to combat her increasing concerns, I understood her anxiety all the more. She spoke of going to her church leaders about her symptoms and being told to pray more, read her Bible more, and have more faith. Specifically, it was her fault she didn’t see any relief; all because of what she lacked.
Deirdre began to whisper as she spoke of seeking out professional help and being prescribed medication. She stated it was only then she experienced the calm she desired. She went on to say she would never tell her Church members she took medication. Now that she had been off the meds for some time Deirdre understood, “I need Jesus and Seroquel!” I nodded and repeated, “Jesus and Seroquel! I got you!”
The Problem: Current statistics show that 18.2% of American adults deal with some sort of mental illness each year; these include conditions such as anxiety and depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses reported in the United States. Affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year due to lost time at work, legal and medical woes.
In addition to an increase in anxiety disorders, the CDC reports major depressive disorder as the leading cause of disability for those ages 15-44; citing that 1 in 4 (23%) U.S. women in their 40’s and 50’s are now taking antidepressants. The CDC reports that antidepressant use has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades; making them the most frequently used class of medications by Americans aged 18-44. While it’s reported that 1 in 4 of the population has a mental illness or disorder; only a third actually receive help.
While it is difficult to determine how many of the 18.1% suffering with mental illness are Christian; it is safe to say they are included in that number. LifeWay Research Group surveyed 355 people diagnosed with a serious mental illness and learned that 200 identified as being “church-going Protestants.” LifeWay also surveyed 1000 Christian pastors, many of whom report supporting and welcoming those with mental health concerns, and discovered there was a disconnection between what was intended and what was delivered. Many church leaders wanted to include and support those with a mental health diagnosis, yet this was not reflected in the feedback from the diagnosed, their family, and congregants as a whole.
It appears there has been an increase in the overall understanding and acceptance of mental health diagnoses in society; yet, the Christian faith community continues to lag behind. Some still ask questions such as: Are the mental health symptoms a result of sin? Did the person turn their backs on God? Is it due to a lack of faith or demon possession? It is important to note, mental health disorders are usually a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environment.
For many Christian Believers, mental disorders are often considered indicators of an immature faith. This thinking eventually affects relationships with loved ones, friends, and with other parishioners. Church members, who have a limited understanding of mental health problems, may either give inappropriate advice or minimize the severity of the complaint. These responses can then be perceived as uncaring or thoughtless. For many, this leads to an increase in symptoms and/or isolation by those impacted.
The reason for this blog is not to point fingers at pastors or misinformed parishioners. Nor is it to promote the medication Seroquel, or any psycho-tropic drug as a cure all for every mental health concern. No, Jesus and Seroquel: Where Faith and Life Intersect seeks to offer support to those who struggle with mental health concerns in light of their faith. This is merely a recognition, a “I see you, and I want to help,” if you will.
The desire is that there will be more Deirdre’s who are encouraged to combat the desire to isolate or minimize their mental health concerns. As more speak up, more will rise to meet the need. Eventually, this will lead to a reduction in stigma associated with mental disorders in the Christian community. Thereby, creating a safe community where honest conversation can result in healing and lasting joy!
Life Way: Facts and Trends: https://factsandtrends.net/2014/11/11/getting-beyond-the-stigma-of-mental-illness/
Mental Health of America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america
(No actual names were used in this post.)