Mental Illness & The Church: Discerning Of Voices


When The Sound Of Mental Illness Distorts Voices

People battling schizophrenia often battle the sound of many voices in their head, voices real to them, often voices telling them of harm leading to disaster, self destruction, or even violence.  It is a time when you can’t trust the voices in your head. When healthy, you may listen to the voice of one’s conscience, your moral code of right or wrong. When ill, the voice of wrong tries to convince you that it is right. False illusions produce dissolutions.

The Church has taught me that the “spiritual” is about matters of the heart, yet brain research has revealed area of one’s brain that affects the way a person “spiritually” thinks.  I have witnessed what depression can do to a strong faith-believing wife who questions her salvation when in the depths of depressive darkness.  I live with a wife who learned to “listen” to the voice of God, only to have it distorted by mania that super spiritualized all aspects of her life.  Mental wellness produces spiritual wellness, but spiritual wellness has suffered with the lack of mental or physical wellness. 

Yet with mental illness, it is still spiritual faith that helps one weather the storms: that intangible belief that God can heal when there is no physical evidence.  In the mental health world, “recovery” is defined as living the best quality of life that one can under the conditions they are currently facing. Faith goes beyond recovery.

Imagine how difficult it must be for those fighting mental illness to “believe” when they may face a bleak darkness beyond despair, a manic high beyond spiritual normalcy, hear voices that they believe may be the voice of God telling them to do self destructive behaviors, doing destructive actions like self mutilation, hyper sexual relationships, and the ruination of personal relationships only to feel the condemnation of the church for their “sins” when they are already living under self condemnation, hoping to find someone somewhere who will extend grace to them during this time when everything in their life seems to be spinning out of control.

In the midst of their maelstrom of confusion, despair, and out of control behaviors, what is the role of the Church in their lives?  What does the Church have to offer them?  I have discovered that the institutional church is also in a maelstrom over what to do about this issue.  The Church historically looked at mental illness as a spiritual disease, not a mental or physical one.  The demoniac had “a legion” of demons telling him what to do, only to have Jesus cast them into a herd of pigs that stampeded to their death, bringing fear and skepticism to those living around that area.  The locals had trouble accepting the ex-demoniac sitting fully clothed and sane when amongst them and requested Jesus to just leave them alone.  In fact, Jesus does not grant this newly sane disciple to be a disciple to follow him, but tells him to go back to his own people.  I have seen the damage caused by churches who have looked upon mental illness only as a spiritual disease, and have not witnessed the “good fruit” of healing happening among them.

The church historically has started hospitals, developed prison ministries, taken care of the homeless, etc., but currently, at least here in America, the church has delegated those responsibilities to private or governmental institutions, forfeiting the power of the gospel to people needing it.  The church currently has an excellent opportunity to reach out to the mentally ill whose hospitals governments are shutting down because of financial cost, whose prisons now house thousands who struggle with mental illness, and feeding the homeless who quarters are teeming with the mentally ill.  In the 21st Century, the mentally ill have become America’s “undesirables”, and the stigma has become America’s stench.  It seems no body cares for them; nobody wants to be their advocate or voice; nobody wants to convenience oneself with the inconvenient. 

I will fill you in on a little secret: Jesus cares!  Jesus cares for the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the hurting, and the ill.  He commissions his Church to also care for them “for I was a stranger and …”.  If the Church is an extension of Jesus today, then it MUST reach out to the mentally ill who are homeless, hungry, imprisoned, hurting, and ill.  How long can the church be blind to this dilemma?

The Church needs to reach out to those struggling with a mental illness, but it faces the maelstrom of not knowing how!  I would love to create a dialogue off this blog of comments and suggestions as to how the Church can do this.  You are invited to join me in this conversation.  Please do not give long dissertations of “your story”, but “suggestions” of how the Church can reach out to those who are facing mental illness, physically, mentally, emotionally, as well as being their judicial and political advocates. If you have experienced your church doing this, please share how they did it! I invite you to join in the discussion!