When Mental Illness Comes Home

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When Mental Illness Comes Home

During a high school youth group meeting, we did an activity that involved saying nice things about the other people in our small group. I was shocked when one of the other girls said, “Amy, you just seem like you have it all together.”

I didn’t know what to say, and I can’t remember how I responded. But I remember how surprised I was because it was so far from the truth. For one thing, I had the same insecurities and hang-ups as all the other adolescent girls in that room. But what had really thrown me far from “having it all together” was that schizophrenia had come to our home, without even bothering to knock, and settled in for a long stay.

My mom had exhibited some signs of mental illness for as long as I had been around, but when I was 14, a period of extraordinary stress pushed her symptoms to the forefront and during my teenage years, Mom cycled through hospital stays and medications, delusions and hallucinations, while the rest of us tried to understand what was happening and pretend it wasn’t happening at the same time. When my friend complimented me, I realized no one could see my pain and confusion.

I kept quiet about Mom’s illness because I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it, I knew people didn’t talk about that kind of thing, and I desperately wanted to be normal. I had never heard a sermon that mentioned mental illness. I had never heard anyone suggest that people affected by mental illness still have a place in God’s purposes.

Since then, I’ve learned some important things about mental illness. If you’re suffering because you or a loved one has a mental illness, I’d like you to know these things too:

Mental illnesses are real medical conditions…they can be treated. 

• Mental illnesses are real medical conditions, caused by biological and environmental factors, they can be treated. Some treatments are up to 90% effective. As with many other medical conditions, successful treatment doesn’t necessarily mean the illness is cured, but therapy and medications can help people manage their disorders and live well.

You are not alone.

• No matter what you feel, you’re not alone. Each year, more than 25% of adults in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Mental illness is quite common. In fact, it’s about equal to the total percentage of people diagnosed with cancer each year, people with heart disease and diabetes, and everyone infected with HIV and AIDS—combined! although many people don’t talk about their experiences with mental illness, you are literally surrounded by others who can relate to your suffering.

God hasn’t abandoned you.

•  In Romans 8:35-38, the apostle Paul, who suffered tremendously, asked, “Does it mean [God] no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” His answer: No! He went on to write that nothing, “not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Mental illness can feel like an attack from hell itself, but regardless of how you may feel, it cannot drive God away from you, and abandonment is not in God’s nature.

God has not broken his promises to you.

•  Despite what our culture may suggest, comfort, happiness, and perfect health are not our natural state. God has not promised them to us in this life, and he doesn’t owe us anything. In fact, humanity forfeited our claim on a perfect world in the beginning, when we chose to reject God’s rule—and we have been making this choice ever since. Jesus didn’t promise us health in this life, and in fact, he guaranteed us we would suffer: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33). Suffering is not unusual and should not surprise us. What is shocking is that despite our sorry condition, we have hope. “But take heart,” Jesus said, “because I have overcome the world.”

Mental illness is not God’s punishment.

•  We all deserve God’s punishment, and we’re all eligible for the grace he offers instead. When Jesus and his disciples saw a man who had been born with blindness (John 9), his disciples asked, “ ‘Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’ ” Jesus told them, “ ‘It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.’ ” God had a purpose in the man’s suffering, and it wasn’t punishment.

Mental illness is not a spiritual problem.

• This didn’t happen because you failed to pray enough, you don’t have enough faith, or you don’t read your Bible enough. Mental illness generally is not a spiritual problem (although the mind certainly can affect the spirit, and vice versa). While spiritual practices like prayer and Bible reading can help facilitate and support healing, illnesses (mental and otherwise) require treatment. Besides, God does not hold himself out of reach and demand that we earn his grace or demonstrate that we’re good enough for his healing touch. Jesus asked “all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens” to come to him and “find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). He condemned legalistic religious leaders, “For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Luke 11:46). Following Jesus may not be easy, but it’s not a religious burden. If someone is telling you your suffering would end if only you were a better Christian, that message is not from God.

God has a purpose for everyone.

•  Our world tends to marginalize people who suffer from mental illness, disabilities and other conditions. Mental illness may alter the course of a person’s life, but it doesn’t mean that person’s life is no good anymore. Psalm 139 is a beautiful reminder of our value to God, and his attention to the details of our lives. Verse 16 celebrates, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”  God is not surprised by your suffering, and he wants to use you!

God wants to redeem your suffering.

•  Sometimes this means he’ll use that suffering to make you more like the person he wants you to be. Sometimes it means your suffering will become a way for you to show his love and grace to someone else. Maybe both. You may never realize how God uses what you have been through, but he will—especially as you welcome his work in you. Second Corinthians 4:7-11 tells us our suffering bodies (and your brain is a part of your body) are valuable to God’s work: “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” Our bodies are fragile and unadorned, but for Christians they carry the presence of God’s Spirit in this world, “like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.” Mental illness doesn’t change the fact that we are called to represent him in these bodies. And good news for those of us who want to see God’s power work through us: As Christ told the apostle Paul, “My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

God is a promise keeper.

• Someday we will be remade, and all illness and suffering will cease. Our bodies are temporary and subject to the forces of decay, but someday we will have new bodies (including new brains) that don’t break down. Second Corinthians 5:1-5 describes the contrast between “this earthly tent we live in” and our permanent “house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” Verse 4 provides a captivating image of what Jesus’ followers will experience someday: “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” Swallowed up by life! Can you imagine how that will feel? The vibrant, unimpeded life we all long for will be ours, and we will have no more reason for groaning.

God has never walked away from my family, and I’m proud and thankful to say that after decades of struggle, Mom is now managing her illness very well. God has graciously done his healing work in me, and I’m no longer ashamed or too confused to talk about what our family has experienced. In fact, I recently wrote a book, Troubled Minds, which shares some of our family’s story and challenges Christians to understand how they can better support people affected by mental illness.

I see evidence of God’s redemption and grace all over my family’s story—even though my mother has not been healed of her disease and we’ll go through plenty more suffering in this life. “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Amy Simpson is author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (InterVarsity Press). 

About The Author
Amy Simpson
Amy Simpson
Hi, I'm Amy Simpson. I'm privileged to introduce myself to you. I'm a passionate leader, communicator, and coach who loves to encourage people to discern and fulfill their calling in this life. I work as an author, a personal and professional coach, a speaker, a freelance writer, and an editor. I have been a writer for 20 years, authoring numerous resources for Christian ministry, including my newest book, Anxious: Choosing Faith in A World of Worry, and the award-winning Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and The Church's Mission (both InterVarsity Press). As a coach, I am trained and certified (CPCC) through the Coaches Training Institute, the industry's most rigorous and highly respected training program. I also hold an MBA from the University of Colorado and more than 20 years of experience as a creative professional, corporate leader, and executive. I am also a woman of faith, and I seek to support others in their personal, professional, and spiritual growth while welcoming clients from all faith backgrounds. A former publishing executive, I serve as senior editor of Leadership Journal. My background includes a unique career path through both the editorial and business sides of publishing, including for-profit and nonprofit organizational leadership. I am deeply in love with my incredible husband, Trevor, and extremely proud of our two fantastic kids. I live with these wonderful people in the suburbs of Chicago, where I am committed to using the gifts God has given me in work that changes the world.
51 Comments
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  • Marla Curtis Wright
    May 8, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Pick me

  • Judy Good
    May 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    i’d like a copy..

  • BonnieLewis
    May 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you for this info…made me feel better today just know God loves me anyway !!!  He is the I AM thru mental illness.

  • Bonnie Lewis
    May 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you Enjoy your posts

  • Kajikho Kayina
    May 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    God bless.

  • Paula Ellis
    July 11, 2013 at 6:56 am

    I FEEL BAD FOR PEOPLE THAT SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESS- GO BLESS THEM ALL. MY HEART GOES OUT TO THEM.

  • Cynde Kester Horton
    July 11, 2013 at 7:01 am

    A double minded man is unstable in all his ways!!! Mental illness is a curse as a result of mans sin, generational passed down most usually through the mothers line!!! My son was healed of it and we went through all the medicine and counselors and hospital stays!!! Gods Grace and Mercy he walks in freedom today!!! You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!!! A book called A More Excellent Way by Henry W. Wright is an excellent source of knowledge, talks and teaches about the spiritual roots to the diseases and illnesses that we accept as what we must have and that is just not the way it has to be!!! It is demonic!!! I have seen demons manifest in my son and speak to me and do things that was not my son!!! I hope you will get this book and at least give it a try!!! God Bless you and your family!!! I wish someone would of shared this with me way back, but we had to go through all that we did , to get to where we are today!!!

  • Jeannie Mcpherson
    July 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

    AMEN

  • Janice Nesbitt
    July 11, 2013 at 7:32 am

    If you know anyone with this problem please read.

  • Carrol Payne
    July 11, 2013 at 7:37 am

    GOD can do anything,Trust Him….Believe!

  • Sylvia M James
    July 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

    My prayers!!!

  • Hippa Complaint
    July 11, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I used to have a very rigid view that all mental illness was a spiritual problem but after my son overdosed with a synthetic derivative of LSD and was insane for awhile I changed my views. In this case prescription of risperdal calmed the activity in his brain and allowed it to heal itself. I now realize that not all mental illness is directly related to demonic influence just as not all individuals afflicted with demonic involvement are mentally ill. However, certainly an individual with mental illness is much more susceptible to demonic attack. I believe only if an authentic believer is interceding for a victim can demonic attack be eliminated as one of the factors …

  • Darlene Murphy
    July 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

    That once you need help for mental illness you always need help for it. If you broke a leg would you always have a broken leg . Not if you went to your closest hospital and had doctors work on it . People are just not very bright when it comes to mental illness.

  • Sonya Thomas Hubbard
    July 11, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Yes, God can do anything, but it is incredibly insulting and hateful to imply, much less state, that mental illness has to do with your faith or lack of. Do you say the same about diabetes?! *smh*

  • Adriana Contreras
    July 11, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Christine Rushing

  • Adriana Contreras
    July 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

    In Romans 8:35-38, the apostle Paul, who suffered tremendously, asked, “Does it mean [God] no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” His answer: No! He went on to write that nothing, “not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Mental illness can feel like an attack from hell itself, but regardless of how you may feel, it cannot drive God away from you, and abandonment is not in God’s nature.

  • Bobbie Peoples
    July 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    It is,because God can heal all.

  • Harold Bray
    July 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Mental illness is exactly that – an illness. Despite what many identified “Christians” say, anxiety and depression are both illnesses that respond to medication. God is much more accepting, loving, tolerant, and understanding than many self-identified Christians. God has allowed the development of medication to help with both anxiety and depression. Counseling/therapy are great adjunct treatments, particularly by a fully qualified Christian counselor/therapist.

  • Karen Cook
    July 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    All of them.

  • lostbronte
    July 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Fantastic post on a topic that I think the church neglects! Btw, I tried to sign up for the book giveaway but the entry form told me that the page was “private”.

  • Kathleen Ann Montagnino DeMatteo
    July 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Cynde, Mental illness is an illness, yes, can be passed down by generational genetics, and unhealthy addicitve life style of drugs, alcohol….God does not put a curse on mankind as a result of sins. Wonderful that your son had your support throughout his illness and recovery. It is journey for many!

  • Janet Kidd
    July 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    some forms of “mental illness” have a physical cause, such as chemical imbalance, where the body cannot produce enough serotonin on its own, so medication is needed to boost it back to normal levels. Don’t EVER feel a failure for going to see your GP, and don’t let insensitive Christians bully and judge you for doing so. And for the record, a born again Christian is NOT subject to ANY generational curses. Stress, and how we react to the trials of life, affect some people more deeply than others. It doesn’t mean we have sinned any more than the self righteous brick-throwers we encounter!

  • Dave Holcomb
    July 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    People telling you to move on, when they have no idea of your feelings, no idea, show love and support.

  • Bill Holton
    July 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with you, just get over it and get on with your life !

  • Trochia
    July 13, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Adriana, what a beautiful reminder of how much God loves us. Thanks for sharing!

  • Adriana Contreras
    July 13, 2013 at 11:24 am

    actually thank you!!

  • Scarlett Hutchinson
    November 7, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I PRAY

  • Miriam Garcia
    November 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    PRAYER

  • Patrick Baker
    November 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    AMEN!

  • Stephen Therey
    November 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    amen

  • Joyce Thacker Mitchell
    November 8, 2013 at 5:41 am

    AMEN

  • Linda Rizzo
    November 8, 2013 at 8:58 am

    I ask God for the strength that I need to go on

  • Lilia Coffin
    November 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

    AMEN!!!

  • Margarita Provencher
    November 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

    communicate daily with my Lord for guidance amen

  • Linda Dixon
    November 9, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Whenever I feel bad or sad about something, I think of Jesus. I talk to Him. I tell Him how I am feeling. I sometimes even look up some of the scriptures that have helped me in the past, and just read them over again – – slowly – Remembering who it is that I am talking to. I know He loves me. I know He loves everyone, and He hurts for each of us in our propblems. I just keep asking Him for guidance in whatever my situation is – and keep remembering He “hears”. – – – and also I remember… there isn’t anything that I could suffer that could even begin to come close to what He suffered for me, and know that I WILL SEE Him one day ! ! !

  • Scarlett Hutchinson
    December 26, 2013 at 6:50 am

    AMEN

  • Savay Sisavath
    December 26, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Amen

  • Sharon Harms
    December 26, 2013 at 10:12 am

    It’s a wonderful life!

  • Dana Thompson
    December 26, 2013 at 10:41 am

    And He promotes Love, not hate, not violence

  • Valerie Brakeman
    December 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Amen!

  • Chanda Sethi
    December 27, 2013 at 5:39 am

    Trochia Amen

  • Linda Dixon
    December 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    We all have made our mistakes . . . and even so … I can feel the drawing on my heart … “keep praying … He is calling to the hearts … keep praying ” … is simply what I feel from the Lord often. He will continually forgive the regrets of a sorrowful heart … and God knows when a person is truely sorry for a mistake that has been made. Isaiah 57: 15 There has been some amazing things happen in my family. The only way I can explain it is His Compassion and Love for us (all) if we will but Look to Him . . . and Appreciate Him for who He is … and pray … God only knows how He is “working all things for the good of those who love Him” … Romans 8: 27-28

  • Myrna Melton
    April 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Amen

  • Bonnie Dodd Johnson
    April 2, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    AMEN

  • Melanie Harris
    April 2, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    amen

  • Melanie Harris
    April 2, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    God is good all the time!

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