Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Medicine is a wonderful thing indeed. We have come a long way where a single pill can heal the vilest of illnesses: the once-feared HIV can now be suppressed; Hepatitis C, which once roamed the land unconquerable, has now met its match. But I think when we venture into the borderlands of mental illness, darkness still looms over the hill country. For infectious diseases, we can obtain a culture or order a blood sample and we know what we’re dealing with (with a few exceptions). For mental illness, it’s not as straight-forward. We know that there are neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, at play, but that’s not the whole story. Most diagnoses rely heavily on observation and patient-reported symptoms, not an objective test result.
I think the challenging thing about mental illness is, well, it’s in the mind. A properly functioning mind appropriately rationalizes and processes emotions and situations. But in people dealing with mental illness, the line between reality and imagination becomes blurred. For example, someone dealing with paranoia might believe that someone is watching and monitoring his or her every move. Every conversation that is overheard, every unusual sound, any suspicious activity is evidence of this. He or she is convinced that this is real. So much of how we live hinges on what we believe.
And I think that’s where Christianity and Psychology converge. They both recognize the power of the mind.
To just list a few:
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37).
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)
“and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,” (Ephesians 4:23).
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:5).
So naturally, Christians might be led to ask, “Should we ever turn to medicine for mental illness?” or “If we do, how much should we rely on it, and how much should we rely on God?” This is a tough question because I don’t think Jesus ever said not to use medicine. Yet reading about Jesus’s miraculous ministry of healing, we may need to check our hearts: “Am I turning to medicine more readily because I secretly don’t think or trust that God can heal?”
Recently, I had asked my mom, who works in the psychiatric field, about this. As someone who was taught to approach mental illness with a scientific hue, she can’t ignore the glaring, spiritual foundations waiting to be excavated in her patients. She views medicine as incredibly helpful with acute symptoms, particularly when harm to others or to self are very likely and evident. But when it comes to taking the next steps in managing the illness, she tries to get at the heart of the matter, something medicine may not penetrate into. For years, she has been using cognitive behavioral therapy with some of her patients, which essentially attempts to identify negative thoughts regarding self or outlook on life and replace them with positive thoughts. That sounds like something we do as Christians, if it were repackaged in another way.
Of course, this may take time. It’s no easy task to convince a depressed person to hope again, or a paranoiac person to trust again, or an obsessively compulsive person to relinquish control again. But I can still remember my mother’s voice, as she locked eyes with mine: “Souls, Simon… souls! If we can even save one soul…” She explained with wide eyes how the psychiatric field is like a big harvest; people come desperately looking for help and are willing to turn to God. I think they need someone who won’t give up on them, someone who can hope for them when they lose hope, and pray for them when they can’t find the words or desire to pray.
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I don’t how to walk the tightrope of medicine and religion. But there are affected people that we know and love who need us to be patient with them. Let us pray with persistence, wait with expectation, hope in tribulation. We may see them one day beside the pearly white gates, and in that day, we won’t regret ever toiling to see even one saved soul.