The shocking recent suicide of pastor Rick Warren's 27-year-old son, Matthew, launched thought-provoking discussion about the difficulties of coping with mental illness in the church. In the midst of his grief, Warren spoke honestly and vulnerably about the stigma and judgmental attitudes that kept his son's depression in the shadows for far too long.
Amy Simpson confronts these attitudes in Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission (InterVarsity Press), an excellent introduction to the realities of mental illness. Simpson challenges the church to step up its ministry to this vulnerable population.
The book includes a look at Scripture, Simpson's survey of 500 churches, and sensitive accounts of many Christians struggling with mental illness themselves or alongside a family member. She argues that although the topic of mental illness is now discussed openly in the broader culture, the church often remains stuck in the dark ages. Many still hold a neo-Gnostic theology, believing depression and other mental illness are caused by unrepentant sin.
Simpson poignantly describes her mother's severe and chronic mental illness. She weaves her stories with those of others. Many people were eager to be heard, and were grateful that someone in the church is finally paying attention.
Troubled Minds offers a thorough and well-researched overview of the realities of mental illness. But Simpson does not resort to professional jargon. The book's real strength lies in Simpson's empathy for those she interviewed, and the compassionate retelling of their stories. Readers will be far better prepared to care for those in their midst who struggle with mental illness. Finally, the book offers hope, both for those who are suffering and for church leaders awakened by Simpson's prophetic call for change.
Simpson clearly demonstrates that mental illness occurs on a continuum, from more common and treatable forms to severe, chronic, and disabling kinds. She tries to demolish the myth that mental illness means people are "crazy." But her frequent use of stories of people with severe mental illness does not always help to dispel that unfortunate myth. The book could have been strengthened by more stories of those who valiantly continue to function in their daily lives and jobs while suffering silently and unnoticed.
Nevertheless, Troubled Minds should prove to be an excellent resource for pastors and lay leaders who minister to the mentally ill. Likewise, it will encourage and inform anyone in the church who wants to be more mindful of and sensitive to those suffering from what are known, colloquially, as the "no casserole" illnesses (because no one thinks to visit or bring a meal).
And perhaps most important, it reassures those struggling with their own or a family member's mental illness that they are not alone, and that there is hope for healing and comfort within the body of Christ.
Michael Mangis is professor of psychology at Wheaton College and a practicing clinical psychologist with Heartland Counseling in Elburn, Illinois. He is the author of Signature Sins: Taming Our Wayward Hearts (InterVarsity Press).
Editor's Note:In the July/August issue of Christianity Today, Amy Simpson gives a personal account of growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. Simpson has also spoken about her book in an interview at CT online ("Loving the 26 Percent").
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