Mental Illness Myth Buster: The Mentally Ill Can Be Leaders


Leaders Who Live With Mental Illness


Charlie Rose, of PBS fame, is doing an phenomenal series on the brain. Session #9 is about Mental Illness and features Jeffrey Lieberman, Kay Redfield Jamison, Helen Mayberg, Eric Kandel, Elyn Saks, and Stephen Warren, and is a must see. If you do not know much about mental illness, this is an excellent program.




Charlie is amazed that Kay Redfield Jamison, who is bipolar and heads the bipolar research branch at John Hopkins University, and Elyn Saks, of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and founder of the Saks Institute of Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics at USC, who is schizophrenic lead a highly skilled productive life inspite of their mental illness.  The show also shares the medical, biochemical look at Mental Illness as well as the up and coming field of genetics.

Even though mental illness strips so many of their dreams, aspirations, and skills, many have recovered and gone into leadership.  NAMI has developed a Peer to Peer program and Certified Peer Specialist program to provide an avenue for people in recovery to give back and reach out.  Peer to Peer is a powerful program where people who struggle with mental illness in their personal lives who are stabilized in the recovery stage are trained, share, and lead their peers who are also struggling with recovery in their journey.  Who better understand and empathize than one who has gone through it? A peer leading a peer, and the program is proving to be highly successful.

As a church, maybe we should listen and learn from our parishioners who struggle with mental illness in order to understand them.  Who better to lead a small group than someone who has struggled with pain and darkness, faced pain and darkness, and worked through pain and darkness to experience the light of hope.  Often the church trains people intellectually or through a program how to lead small groups rather than allowing people who have experienced trials and worked through them. Small group ministry is powerful and effective if its leaders are empathizers, compassionate, and can reach people just where they are at because they have been there and can now offer hope and encouragement through their experiences and journey.

Because of the stigma of mental illness, most churches have never thought nor given their parishioners with a mental health background a chance to be a leader.  Many are filled with compassion, empathy, enthusiasm, hope, and a life’s journey who can help others who are struggling. Let them lead!