Getting Past the Christian Stigma of Depression Part Three
By Lorraine Walker
With Dr. Bob Nichols, Jimmy McMillan and Tim Mills
Mental illness strikes one in four Americans and depression is diagnosed in one in ten people. This disease is not a respecter of persons and can be found in the church as well as in the general population. Yet the Church often turns its head as untrained leaders are unable to deal with this illness that encompasses spirit, soul and body.
In this third and final installment of our series on Mental Health, we look to the current treatment for the mentally ill and what the Church can do to help those in the fold find the help they so desperately need.
Once again, we look to our Mental Health ‘panel’, consisting of Dr. Bob Nichols, Jimmy McMillan and Timothy Mills to shed some light on an illness that has so long remained in the shadows. The treatments available can range from chemical assistance, counseling, and behavioral therapy to hospital treatment and homeopathic cures.
Often those with mental illness find it difficult to maintain a prescribed drug therapy. Patients may stop taking medication when they begin to feel better, believing they don’t need further treatment. This medication often has side effects such as weight gain or loss of sex drive. For some, the idea that they need chemical assistance to “feel normal” is so embarrassing that they will just stop taking their pills. Medication compliance becomes more of a complication when the patient stops and resumes taking the pills without respecting the possible effects that will have on the chemical balance of their brain.
The Church can play a vital role in providing spiritual counseling to accompany therapy that may be provided to the patient. Leaders need to be trained in this area to properly counsel, but every member in the pew can offer acceptance and unconditional love.
Jimmy McMillan comments on the Church’s role. “The biggest thing the Church can do to help is to show love and compassion. Come to see Mental Illness as just that, an illness. Although Mental Illness is one of the least understood illnesses today I believe the Church needs to be leading the way in providing a safe place for someone to say ‘ I need help’.”
“Bring knowledgeable, dynamic mental health professionals that are part of the Christian faith into the church,” suggests Timothy Mills. “A quarterly visit at a different Sunday school class where the professional can address the particular issues for that age group would be appropriate. I think another a positive way would be to promote a biannual seminar addressing the many issues we as Christians face today.”
Dr. Bob Nichols has made it a significant part of his life’s work to assist pastors with Mental Illness back to health. He sees what Mental Illness can do to those in the church and to their leaders. “As a minister as well as a psychologist, I have a heavy burden in this area,” says Dr. Nichols. “It is my perspective that communities of churches should gather together and develop a plan to help their parishioners with mental illness. Unless a church is very large, it does not have the resources to dedicate large amounts of funds exclusively to mental illness.”
Dr. Nichols continues, “There are some problems and solutions that we need to consider, including the fact that more and more churches are moving to ‘lay counselors’ trained by professionals. This is a great aid to the minor types of mental illness. These lay counselors are then resourced by professionals, who have an agreement with the local church to receive their parishioners without referral.”
“Some parishioners do not have the proper insurance to cover mental illness, therefore, are not able to go to professionals and have to go to lay counselors. There are very few lay counselors with professional training in the field of mental illness. Communities of churches could group together to defray this expenditure as they contract Christian doctors to work with their parishioners.”
However, Dr. Nichols is aware of the lack of education in this area. “Better training is needed for pastors and front-line Christian leaders as to how to deal with mental illness.”
There are many in the pews who suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness who will not approach their pastors for assistance. Often their friends are their resource for comfort and help, so it is helpful to recognize the symptoms of depression as discussed in the first part of this series. [Authors note: these are reprinted at the end of this article].
Sometimes these symptoms are hidden from others as the person goes through their private battle with darkness. When this only comes to light at a suicide or an attempt at suicide, it can be devastating.
Jimmy McMillan suggests, “One thing I might add is to always take someone seriously when they are sharing thoughts of depression. What may seem like the smallest of things to you may be a seemingly unbearable burden to them. Always remember the words ‘you’ll get over it’ are some of the cruelest there are to someone suffering with this disease.”
For those who are close to a sufferer of Mental Illness, saying the right words and offering the proper kind of assistance can be a difficult thing to do. Often it is hard to know what to say or do when you approach a friend or loved one who is in the hospital or who has tried to commit suicide. Timothy Mills suggests, “Tell that person that you love them very much; you think they are valuable and your love for them is as non-judgmental as humanly possible. I would keep the conversation on concrete, tangible subjects. Unless they wanted to talk about God, I would avoid it.”
Tim continues, “It is easy for people to say ‘God loves you’, but someone may be angry because they just don’t see it. Someone might say, ‘God doesn’t love me’ and you would respond with ‘I don’t believe that, but you know that I love you.’ It is easy for someone to argue the intangible but very difficult to argue the tangible. In any debate, one is successful when common ground is achieved.”
Dr. Nichols adds, “Practical help for suicide attempts and mental illness are not all the same. The best care for suicide attempts is for the care-giver to clearly understand the process of grief, which is: Denial, Confusion, Bargaining, Fear, Blame, Anger, Depression, Relief, Sadness, Hope and Trust Reconnection, and finally, Acceptance. Understanding this process will enable the care-giver to discover the appropriate response and support the individual going through crisis.”
We trust that this look into the world of Mental Illness will enable our readers to be more aware and compassionate of those around them who may be suffering from this insidious disease. The Church needs education in this area, but the fruit of the Spirit that the Lord develops in our lives is one of the greatest aids in helping the sufferer feel accepted by those around them.
Thanks again to our Mental Health panel:
Dr. Bob Nichols is an expert on mental illness and works with pastors to assist them back to a state of mental health. He has a doctorate in theology and psychology and over thirty years in ministry. http://www.drbobnichols.com
Jimmy McMillan is a southern gospel artist with McMillan And Life, and is a Christian who suffers from clinical depression. http://www.mcmillanandlife.com
Timothy Mills, southern gospel artist with The Southern Brothers, is pursuing his degree in Psychology. http://www.thesouthernbrothers.com/
For more information on mental health please log onto:
The National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/
Reprinted from Part One:
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts; that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depression cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without recognition and help, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years.
Depression symptoms include:
* Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
* Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
If you or anyone you love fits this description, please seek help from your family physician.
First published on www.sgmradio.com in March 2009. Written by Lorraine Walker.
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