Mental Illness and Moral Judgments

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Experience has shown me that there are still those within the Christian Reformed Church who believe that those with depression or other mental illnesses should “pray it away” rather than take medication. Nobody in our denomination would dream of saying that to someone with heart disease or arthritis, but if you have a mental illness, people feel entitled to make assumptions about your morals or your spiritual life.

Unless people know you intimately, they have no business assuming that having a mental illness is synonymous with a moral failure or spiritual wandering away from God. Prayer does not replace medications for any condition, whether physical or mental. It is not either/or, but both/and. I find that too many people are afflicted with tunnel vision and binary thinking in life, and they should expand their intellectual horizons a good deal more.

In reality things are seldom as cut and dried as people try to make them out to be. Could that be because oversimplifying issues gives them a false sense of security? If so, it’s an illusion, and that illusion creates a lack of empathy and compassion toward those who suffer from psychiatric disorders. Those who suffer from mental illnesses have enough trouble without having to deal with people’s assumptions on top of it all. Helpful resources for learning about psychiatric disorders include the websites network.crcna.org/disability-concerns and mentalwellnesstoday.com, and the book Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians with Mental Health Challenges, by John Swinton.

One thing people should know about severe mental illnesses is that medications don’t cure them. All they do is control the “positive” symptoms. If you stop taking them, those symptoms will start reappearing. That’s why telling people to pray away their illness is such bad advice. God has allowed people to develop mental illnesses for the same reason some people have heart disease or cerebral palsy: it’s a consequence of original sin and nothing they did. Nobody deserves to start hearing voices out of the blue that tell them they’re worthless and should kill themselves. We must stop judging and show compassion to those who live with such disorders.

About the Author

Michèle Gyselinck is an artist and a member of First Christian Reformed Church, Montreal, Que. She has been a Disability Concerns regional advocate for Classis Eastern Canada since 2016.

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