We’re in the middle of Mental Health Month (May 2018). This weekly blog series during the month of May is intended to increase your understanding of “mental health.” So far, we’ve looked at the similarities between our physical and mental health and the ways that things we don’t feel can impact our underlying health.
Today let’s turn the corner to look at mental illness.
What is mental illness?
Mental illness is a mental condition that is causing a disturbance in how a person thinks and feels, in their relationships, or in daily living. Mental illness can range from mild to severe, and it may last for a short time or for a lifetime.
While it may sound scary, mental illness is actually pretty common and recovery options are good. There are more than 200 diagnosable mental disorders, and one in five adults in the US will experience mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Some mental illnesses are commonly discussed in the US, such as depression or schizophrenia, but this does not mean that everything said or written about mental illnesses is accurate. You can get some good information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
What causes mental illness?
There is not one simple or direct cause for mental illness. Our brain is releasing chemicals all the time, and sometimes they get out of balance. When our brain is not producing the right amount of serotonin, for example, then disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anxiety problems become more likely. But our lifestyle choices and experiences also influence mental illness. Do you drink alcohol heavily or use drugs? Have you survived a traumatic experience? These are examples of life experiences that can influence mental illness. People who have survived a trauma involving gunshots, for example, may afterward experience their brain reacting to a car backfire as if it were a new and equally dangerous gunshot.
What can we do about mental illness?
We don’t always know a direct cause for mental illness, but we do know that God always wants us to be kind, loving, and caring to people. This certainly includes people with mental illness. There are many things that we can do about mental illness:
- Talk about it. Simply acknowledging that this is a problem, even a problem within the church, is very helpful to reduce the stigma that people experience. And it is an experience within the church.
- Don’t judge people if they are struggling – and don’t expect perfection from yourself either. It takes a lot of strength, courage, and perseverance to manage an illness, whether physical or mental illness. Family, friends, and community are all impacted.
- Learn about mental illness and try to understand people’s experiences. Education is very helpful, and there are many good websites and books to help.
- Pray with people. Pray for people. Embrace them and bring them into your community.
- Be the C.H.U.R.C.H. – Care. Help. Utilize volunteers. Remove stigma. Collaborate. And offer Hope. Check out Kay Warren for more information and description.