A Cultural Context: Society, Mental Health, and the Church

Today, culture and mental health science are trying to come to terms. The high prevalence of mental illness has a high cost to society—from the pain and suffering of families to the unhealthy development of youth to the impact of mental illness on the legal system. Our culture has yet to find an answer to addressing mental illness in this big picture so that society works more compassionately and more effectively.

Although the first American efforts to help the mentally ill came from the Christian church, the modern church at large still has a long way to go. While there are some programs for peer counseling and support groups, and awareness of mental illnesses and addictions is developing, the church has largely had difficulty embracing those with emotional and mental illnesses.

Despite Jesus’ call to care for the sick and oppressed, there is little voice for those suffering from mental illness. Often, those suffering feel there is no one in the church who notices or cares. While suffering, they try to relate and integrate into the main body of believers, but are often forced to pretend that their major life struggle and spiritual battle is not happening. When they do share their pain, they can be met with awkward or hurtful responses, from platitudes to condemnation, as Job experienced with his “friends.”

There are many unmet needs among those individuals and families experiencing traumatic events, loss, illness, or addictions. The church could be their major spiritual resource and testament to God’s love. The Spirit reveals truth through pain and suffering as God’s love is expressed through the restoration of broken lives and relationships. It is an extremely challenging ministry area and not a calling for the weak or fainthearted.

A psychiatrist has a unique point of view, sharing in the pain and suffering of others, seeing the destruction of their “normal” lives, then participating in their healing. We are in a position to observe the transformation of a broken life to a new life, helping patients progress from pain and suffering to healing and recovery, and ideally, from hopelessness to joy. There are many theology and Christian philosophy resources that offer “top-down” perspectives, but spiritual truth from the medical perspective has the unique role of illuminating God’s truth in real life events.

This blog presents a point of view that brings the reality of emotional trauma, mental illness, and medical science in concert with philosophical and biblical truths. The healing of illness and brokenness reveals a clearer and fuller picture of the nature of God’s authorship and His love for us—through life’s sorrows and joys, He desires us to see Him and feel His love intimately as we journey in this lifetime of restoration.