Thursday, January 24, 2013

Five ways to help those who are mentally ill, Part 2

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I have been interacting with the mental health system in the United States for twenty eight years.

I have been hospitalized as an inpatient for about 60 days. I have never been psychotic; and it is not my "fault" that I haven't. Once in 1986, I was hospitalized because my psychiatrist was worried that I had a brain tumor. They kept me for three weeks. Another time in 1991, while living in Florida, I had seventeen ECT (Electro-convulsive Therapy) treatments. That particular hospital stay was thirty two days. My last hospitalization was in 1998 and it lasted about a week. I had ECT as an inpatient and then had many more as an outpatient. The difference then was because of my insurance coverage and their rules.
Over all these years I have seen up-close and personally the way mental illness is treated, both evangelically and secularly.

But what about seeing mental illness from the other side of the clipboard?
I have been working as a mental health/professional/ pastoral counselor for many years. By the grace of God, Robyn and I have been able to help many mentally ill people and their families. We co-founded a non profit called Heartfelt Counseling Ministries. One of the purposes of Heartfelt is to advocate for the mentally ill. I am writing this blog as a plea for persons to do this very thing.

Five Ways to help those who have mental illness, especially those who know Christ as Savior.

This is a continuation of the first two ways which are in a separate blog.

3. Have an attitude of compassion. If you have no compassion for the mentally ill then please stay out of their way. They have a crushed spirit and there are many Scriptures that instuct us to be caring and compassionate with weakened people such as these. If you are a pastor, then you are directly exhorted biblically to help the suffering sheep. I have been treated with disdain by pastors and church members. It is very demoralizing and if it happens while I am in an episode of depression, it is like an officer in war shooting his own wounded soldier. There still are many "biblical counselors" who are not really biblical in their approach. They believe in a one-size-fits-all for the remedy of a depressed person. The Bible is certainly a book that does not teach such an easy remedy.

People who trouble the mentally ill are like a hacker's virus which upsets the highly tuned computer wreaking havoc on its system. Much of my ministry has been acting like effective antivirus software. It involves detecting the people who do not have compassion, and eliminating the damaging effect of the virus. I then seek to biblically restore the bruised reed and the wick which is almost snuffed out. My great example of doing this type of work is the Lord Jesus, Himself.

Oue Lord Jesus is our example.
    This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope, Matthew 12:20.

Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young Isaiah 4; 10, 11(ESV)

4. Have some knowledge of the Bible and mental illness. One way to understand these issues is to read our book, Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel like You're Losing It. It was published by Kregel in 2005 and has had steady sales. Why? It has staying power. It is an informative, personal and biblical account of many types of mental illness. It has been read by the thousands and it also has an academic status with Kregel Publications. It is available in a number of electronic forms. If you want to know more about it, go to:

5.  Help mentally ill people get good treatment from a fragmented system. Where you live in this global village has been determined by the living God. Some countries have almost no system at all for the treatment of the mentally ill. In fact, there are a number of countries who are openly hostile toward Christians and after they throw them in jail, they certsainly do not give them antidepressants.
In the former Soviet Union in the 1980's they actually imprisoned evangelical pastors and forced them to take antipsychotic pills because these atheists did not believe in God and therefore the pastors were psychotic and delusional and needed psychotopic help.

The mental health systems in other countries have their strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to know your system and then help the person(s) who has mental illness negotiate it. I have worked extensively as a mental health professional but I still find it difficult to get what I need from the system in the United States.

Insurance companies often try to deny services and can do this in in some very creative ways. I often hear complaints from those with depression, bipolar, etc. that their doctor or doctor's office staff can be very blunt and harsh with them and not even explain their actions. Pharmacists can be very helpful sometimes but some of them don't do anything to help either. In my own personal experience, the pharmacy techs are even worse. When the person is in an active episode of mental illness, you must be sure to help them with practically everything. Some need to have a ride to the doctor; some need help in setting up and obtaining important medications; many need for you to go in with them for their appointment and listen to what the doctor says to them and some need help from the very beginning in finding a good psychiatrist. The ways any sick person needs assistance vary of course, but mental illnesses can be so severe that the person has no volition, no strength, no will to even help himself.

Heartfelt Counseling Ministries has started a CAMI (Christians Afflicted with Mental Illness) program. We have support group material for those who have mental illness; we also have groups in churches and recently we have started an exciting online group. All you need is a laptop computer and you can attend a group online. We will be starting more online groups as needed in various time zones.

In future blogs, I will spend more time explaining how to become a CAMI member and what that will mean to you and to others. In the meantime, if you suspect someone is struggling with mental illness or if you know they are, please reach out in kindness and help in any of the ways we have discussed.
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