Building Ramps for the Mentally Ill
About 10 years ago I heard an Australian pastor say that mental illness was a big need in his city. I was young and strong back then so the picture that came into my mind was that he lived in a town of crazy people. Now I know better. Mental illness is one of the giants of our day. I’ve heard it said that one in twelve people suffers from some form of mental affliction.
If you have 60 friends, chances are that five of them suffer from mental illness. Do you know who they are?
For many people mental illness is taboo. It’s the sickness no one talks about until it’s too late. In face-conscious Hong Kong you won’t know that a person is suffering until they’ve thrown their kids out the window and leapt after them. Mental illness is bad enough, but keeping it wrapped up in secrecy and misunderstanding only makes it worse.
Jesus said he came to bring freedom to the oppressed (Lu 4:18; see also Acts 10:38). Surely that includes those oppressed by bipolar disorder, depression, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD, and so forth.
There is a huge opportunity for followers of Christ to make a difference in this area. How do we do this? By building ramps. Just as we have access ramps for wheelchairs we need ramps for the mentally ill. And by ramps I mean we need to make it as easy as possible for the hurting to come in and find comfort and friendship and healing. Here are 5 ramp-building ideas:
1. Send the message: “come as you are.” People who struggle should not be told they are only welcome when they’re feeling “up”. If blind people are allowed to bring their seeing-eye dogs to church, then people who suffer from depression should be allowed to bring their black dogs. Of course we want to get rid of the dogs. But read the Bible and you will see those who came to Jesus were much more likely to get healed than those who stayed away.
Whether you subscribe to the institutional church or the organic church or the I-am-church model, are we making it easy for people with mental illness to come just as they are? Or are we sending the signal that you must be walking in victory every single day? We need to get real.
2. Cultivate transparency and reality. Think about the sicknesses that you pray for. If the majority of these are physical ailments and you don’t live in the third world, something is wrong. Chances are that those struggling with mental disorders are keeping quiet out of embarrassment or fear.
People outside the church will pay thousands to have a caring counselor listen to their struggles. In the church we listen for free. Create a safe environment where hidden weaknesses can be talked about. We don’t gather around our problems – we gather around Jesus – but bringing problems into the light is the first step towards healing and deliverance. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, keen to pray.
3. Become dealers in hope. Hope is the first casualty of depression. People who suffer from mental disorders often battle to see hope in their situation. When the battle is in the mind, perspective is easily lost. So what hope can we give to sick people? Isaiah 53:5 tells us that Jesus died for us that we might be free from sin and sickness.
I really love Joseph Prince’s take on this scripture. He says that Jesus identified with us in our frailties so that we might identify with him in glory. Don’t identify with your illness. Identify with Jesus. When the doctor speaks a negative diagnosis remind yourself that “as Christ is, so are we in this world” (1 Jn 4:17). Jesus is not depressed. Jesus is not anxious or stressed. Make Jesus your hope.
Incidentally, never tell a sick person that God made them sick to teach them something. He didn’t. Do tell them that the Greek word for salvation covers every aspect of life including healing. On what basis are we healed? On the basis that Jesus was wounded for us (Is 53:5). Stand with them on that promise. In his book So You Think Your Mind is Renewed?, my friend Cornel Marais says:
“Healing is not our privilege, it is our right. Jesus didn’t suffer and die for you to have the privilege of maybe being healed. He died so that you could be well.”
4. The strong need to help the weak (Rms 15:1). Some in the Bible were so helpless that they needed determined friends to rip open roofs to break through to Jesus. We need to cultivate a similar attitude of perseverance when we come along side those who are struggling. Have faith for their healing, be fervent in praying on their behalf and don’t give up. Celebrate victories but don’t throw in the towel if there are set-backs.
A literal reading of James 5:16 says that the energetic prayers of the righteous are effective – energetic in the sense of faith that’s doing something, instead of faith that’s doing nothing. That is an awesome promise to stand on. But take care not to impart guilt or condemnation if the person you’re praying for doesn’t feel as passionate or as chirpy as you do. And don’t tell them to throw away their medication if they don’t have a conviction about it. Encourage them in the Lord but don’t put pressure on them. Be the ramp that lifts them up to Jesus.
5. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. Some people aren’t going to get healed the first time you pray for them, or the second time. Does this mean they’re to sit on the sidelines of life waiting for their healing? Absolutely not. God can use us for his glory no matter how strong or weak we feel. In fact, God can use us more when we’re weak than when we’re strong (2 Cor 12:10). He surely used Paul:
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (2 Cor 1:8-11)
As someone has said, you can be very low emotionally and still be strong spiritually. I agree. You may not be able to lift your head but you can still lift your hands saying, “Lord, here I am, use me.”
A whispered prayer of praise in the midst of suffering is an act of faith that defies circumstances. It’s saying, “no matter what happens, he is worthy and I will praise him.” I don’t know about levels of faith or anything like that, but it’s my conviction that God finds this kind of faith irresistible. When his children, who are in pain, praise him, he is moved. Prisons tumble, graves open, the dead rise, and the depressed rejoice. He is the glory and lifter of our heads (Ps 3:3).
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Paul, thank you for this post. I’m 56 and have recently been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis actually explained a lot of problems I had dealt with in my life, and I learned that I am not the only person who feels like there is a huge, gaping hole in their soul.
My heart aches for folks with a more severe form of this disorder because one of the worst aspects of it is that you feel completely unlovable.
Not quite so cut and dry, Paul. We are dealing with mental illness in our family. Taking someone to a church service, that thinks he is God, can be disruptive to the gathering. You wouldn’t want to encourage him to come out of his comfort zone, the results would be ghastly, and you surely can’t reason with someone that is delusional. He wants to attend but there has been some disruptions that disturb others. Any suggestions on how to minister to someone with the diagnosis of schizophrenia? A discussion about his thoughts and beliefs and ideas is just a waste of everyone’s time because you can not change his reality. We are at a loss about what to do as far as church attendance. He loves to go and fellowship with folks. Right now we are having him watch our church service on line. We feel so bad about refusing to let him go to church, but feel that we have an obligation to the other members that want to not be distracted… We will keep praying for him, we know that God has already healed him because of the cross, but in the mean time…????? Any suggestions anyone?
The only thing I could think of is intense prayer and intercession on his behalf. I honestly think the devil is messing with his mind and warping his sense of perception. That needs to be lifted and his mind needs to be cleansed. I will pray but get your whole congregation to pray too.
You have the power and authority of Jesus to cast out demons! He IS healed. He IS free. =]
Thank you Mei Yee…your prayers and the prayers of your congregation are much appreciated! We continue to pray for his deliverance, but where 2 or more agree, He is in their midst. Praying that a stronghold will be broken. Yes, he is free!
This sounds like demonic oppression. Maybe this person needs deliverance from demonic forces. Without getting into the theology, Christians can sometimes be oppressed by demonic forces beyond their control, and need someone who can come alongside and command these demonic influences to come out of them. Remember, Jesus “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38). This is what we are still supposed to be doing.
I think you might be right, John. He was prayed over by a strong group of christian men a few weeks ago. Just praying that God will show us or bring someone into his path that will be able to be successful in making his healing and deliverance manifest.
I am speaking from personal experience. My wife suffered for many years with thoughts of suicide (she became a believer at the age to 2!). It was only after a pastor who was familiar with demonic oppression was willing to pray for her was she set free. The demon “growled” that it had been there for 50 years (since my wife was 5 yrs old!), and was not going to leave, but with persistent commanding, eventually left. My wife has not suffered from suicide thoughts since, although she still suffers a little from depression at times (having been diagnosed as bi-polar), but is slowly managing to break free from the medications and is beginning to feel normal at last – praise God.
Hi Cathy .
I can give no other assistance but this , In people with these conditions I can assure you this, the condition never makes a statement to God about the person that has the condition. It makes a statement to God on the persons that come into contact with them.
It sounds to me like you are dealing perfectly with this.
Chris, I have thought the same thing for many years. I stopped apologizing,years ago for his awkward behavior. God showed me that he is a kinda “ln your face” lesson to people on compassion and acceptance. I fail at this often because being a family member of a mentally ill person is very tiring and frustrating. My husband and I are believing that when he receives his healing or deliverance that God will be glorified. Thank you for your kind words.
Thanks for this message Paul.
I completely agree that hope is so vital and important when you are struggling with mental illness and often the first thing to go. That has also been my experience.
My beautiful daughter struggles daily with mental health issues. It is not easy to live with let alone talk about. Extremely painful for all of us. Compassion and patience and inclusion are all needed.
Very encouraging thankyou
As someone struggling with major depressive disorder, I find this article invaluable. As far as the situation with the person struggling with schizophrenia, my church has a number of people who are mentally handicapped and disruptive. There is always someone available to take the person quietly out of the room for a while and people are understanding and helpful.
The last two years I have had to take medication for depression and it’s really affecting me in a way to where I’ve lost my heart emotionally. I’ve always laughed twice and cried once that I remember. I also suffer from ADHD since I was a child and I have a hard time concentrating, my mind always racing. Sleep is hard to come by without sleeping medication and herbal tea. The worst part is that I don’t have that deep appreciation for what God did on the Cross through his son Jesus. As for demonic oppression, I’m not sure but the last couple of months whenever I start to pray I’ll start off by saying “Jesus.. I’m warning you. And I was coming to Him with either gratitude or and humility. The same thing happens often when I say dear God, to praise him or confess a lapse in judgment or attitude but what comes out is… I’m warning you”. Now just 30 minutes ago I helped out a friend and after I got the phone, the thought came to my mind “God, I hope you appreciate this”. I’m freaked out about this and I don’t know if I am under demonic oppression or if I’m really under law. I don’t feel loved and in the words of Keith Green:
My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard my prayers are cold.
Dear Higherpowered I read a book recently called The Healing Code, written by a believing health specialist. Many people have been helped by a simple little prayer asking Father God to find every harmful thought they have about themselves or God, and every destructive cellular memory that’s causing issues in their lives, to find it and open it up to God’s Love and Light and Life. Basically knowing that God’s Life and Spirit is the very essence of all existence, and allowing ourselves to be still and dwell on His help and love to us.
God is not fussed by our lapses in judgement or failures, He understands our weakness. Thankfully we can look and see our beautiful Jesus and He represents us now…not Adam.
I wish you so well. We are all on this adventure and none of us has it down pat yet. Blessings.
higherpowered, don’t be freaked out. You are not your thoughts. All sorts of horrid things can pop into our minds, but they are not who we are. I know some pills make you feel one step removed as if you are an independent observer. But that is an effect of the drugs – in trying to keep the depression in check they can end up suppressing all emotions (the good as well as the bad). And terms of your prayers, at least you’re praying (even if you’re warning Jesus!). That’s better than me – I barely pray in any disciplined sense as I find that stifles the relationship. I know He is always near, and I rest in that. Anyway, the OT is full of saints arguing with God, so you’re in good company!
Again (as discussed) you don’t need to “feel” loved. Truth is truth. The earth is round whether you feel it or not. Death was defeated 2000 years ago, whether you believe it or not (because not believing doesn’t make it untrue). Faith doesn’t need feelings; it’s not that flimsy.
And you are NOT under Law. That was superseded & made obsolete 2000 years ago (Hebrews 8:13). It is now life by the Spirit, & He’s already in you, so actually all you need do is…. breathe.
Live in the dry desert for a while. Enjoy the lack of emotion; emotions are overrated (and exhausting). Bless you.
I misspoke. Risperidone is for manic depression- bipolarAnd schizophrenia. The side effects include restlessness, Depression, anxiety… Those were the worst among weight gain and others. I’m paralyzed from the chest down and unable to drive to find a church. I have no friends who are believers that I could talk with. I’m not complaining, God knows my situation and I’ve been praying about whether I should find a Christian mentor and I don’t hear anything only sense that I’m just supposed to hang with Jesus. My next step now is about how Christ carried my diseases at the Cross and meditating on that. God bless you all!