Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the Nature of Mental Illness

...from a long discussion with my psychiatrist husband

There are those who think mental illness is a spiritual problem.  Others say it is an emotional problem.  Still others think it is a purely physical problem.

The truth is, none of these things can be separated in human beings, who are mind, body, and spirit.  There are emotional and spiritual dimensions to any illness; for example, even chickenpox isn't something to which we would be susceptible if we were in perfect communion with God.  For another example, depression increases our susceptibility to pain.  So every dimension of the human being is involved in every disorder.

Mental illness doesn't necessarily mean you are weaker than anyone else, or have some greater moral lapse, or simply need a very holy spiritual father.  The major difference between mental illness and any other illness is that it involves the brain instead of, say, the liver or the heart or the skin. 

And it's not just your emotions or your spiritual life that leave their marks on the brain, either; else you'd suppose every gross criminal in history must have been a mental patient.  Or that holy people, like St. Paul, never suffered any bodily defect.  All sorts of other things can affect the brain.  A very incomplete list would include:  a severe knock on the head, alcohol or other drugs, tumor, insufficient oxygen supply, stroke, messed-up brain chemistry, an unfortunate genetic mix...

My point is yes, you do need a good spiritual father, of course; we all do.  But as with other illnesses, you also do need a doctor!  And maybe some prescriptions.

And you do not need to feel any more ashamed of a brain illness than of measles or asthma.


Christopher D. Hall said...

Wonderful post! Thanks.

amy said...

Timely that I should find this post today. I've been struggling with how to help/minister to my friend who has bipolar and rejects treatment for it. It's terribly destructive what I see happening in her life - and all I can think to do is pray and encourage her to care for herself for the sake of her children...

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

That is very typical of people with bipolar. They take the meds, the meds work, the patient decides s/he no longer needs them as they've obviously done their job.

God bless and lead you as you seek to be qa good friend!