Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Things that I know about mental illness

1.    I know that mental illness sometimes has external causes.  One common example would be SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a usually mild form of seasonal depression caused by reduced hours of sunshine in winter.  In the area where I live there are 17 hours between sunrise and sunset at the summer solstice and only 7 hours at the winter solstice.  In addition, we don’t spend a lot of time outdoors in winter time.  I think this affects all of us to some extent and spring fever is a very real thing — an increase in energy and enthusiasm that comes with increased hours of sunshine.  For some individuals the seasonal effect reaches the point of clinical depression during the winter months.  The treatment is to buy a “happy light,” a lamp whose bulb emits light that closely reproduces the spectrum of natural sunlight.  Using such a light for a few minutes every morning greatly reduces the symptoms of SAD.

2.    I know that it is possible to suspect that someone has a spiritual problem when it is really a treatable mental illness.  A man I knew became more and more headstrong at work.  Eventually he went for several days without sleep, brushing aside all warnings that this could not end well.  Then one morning he could not face going to work, he couldn’t even make himself get out of bed for several days.  This pattern repeated at several different jobs.  Eventually a doctor recognized the symptoms of bipolar disorder, medication was prescribed and this man’s life completely stabilized, at home and at work.

3.    I know that it is possible to suspect that someone has a mental illness when in fact it is a spiritual problem.  Another man suddenly stopped looking after his livestock or doing any work on his farm.  His behaviour became very bizarre.  His family had him admitted to the psychiatric ward of a major hospital.  After a few days the doctors released him, saying “There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just stubborn.”  This problem continued for a number of years, until he finally admitted his need of a restored relationship of God.  He repented and made a thorough cleanup of his life.  His wife later said that the last few years of his life had been the happiest of all their married life.

4.    I know that having something useful to do can sometimes reduce the symptoms of mental illness.  Another friend had schizophrenia, couldn’t hold a job, didn’t trust people and sometimes exhibited quite bizarre behaviour.  Then he rented a rouse, agreed to do some repairs and painting in the house in return for a reduction in his rent, tilled up a garden plot and planted a garden.  He lived in this house for one year and during this year he also held a full time job at a factory in a nearby town, by far the longest he ever held a job.  Unfortunately, after that year the house was sold and his life spiralled downward out of control once more.

5.    I have learned that being quick with helpful advice for those struggling with depression or schizophrenia is about the worst thing I can do.  Patient listening and trying to include them in non-threatening social activities is usually much more helpful.

6.    I know that there are a lot of things that I don’t know about mental illness.

4 responses to “Things that I know about mental illness

  1. Lisa August 26, 2013 at 14:12

    Very well written! How often I have wished there were more answers for those with mental illness and their families.

  2. Bob Goodnough August 26, 2013 at 15:02

    Thank you. I wish I understood more about mental illness, but I see a great danger in believing that I know more than I really do. Perhaps if we would talk about it more freely, without making hasty judgements, we would all understand just a little bit more.

  3. tonyroberts64 August 26, 2013 at 19:35

    As a Christian who has battled bipolar for over two decades, I appreciate this thoughtful and caring post. Thank you very much.

  4. Bob Goodnough August 26, 2013 at 20:05

    Thank you Tony. I sometimes wonder – I have suffered with hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, for as long as I can remember. I have been taking antihistamines for 45 years, have had to switch a couple of times because of side-effects or to find a more effective product. I also use a cortisone nasal spray and often need to use decongestants. There are things I can’t do, but basically I manage quite well. Is this really all that different than living with bipolar, except perhaps for the perceptions of other people?

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