Summary: If we love the mentally ill, we won't judge them, blame them or suggest that they are simply suffering through a spiritual battle. If we love them, we will help, we will listen, we will accept them.
A few weeks ago we discussed what it means to speak the truth in love and how we do so with unbelievers and how we love those who embrace immorality. Today we're going to continue to speak the truth in love for another group of folks that we don't talk about much. This is what we want to discuss today, "How do we love those who suffer from mental illness?"
We don't talk about mental illness much in church. I don't think I've ever heard anyone preach a sermon about it. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness churches are not speaking much about mental illness. The National Alliance of Mental Illness even placed sermon ideas on their website to help churches talk about it.
There are probably a lot of reasons why we don't discuss mental illness in church. I didn't do a lot of research on this, so I'm just going to tell you why I haven't talked about it much. Because I don't know a lot about it. It's really that simple. The arena of mental illness, the science, the medicine of it, is all fairly new. We haven't been talking about mental illness as a culture or a society for very long, probably because of the same reason.
In medicine we've figured out how to do some very complicated things. We can take a bad heart and replace it with another one. We can transplant several organs, we can even re-attach severed limbs in some cases. If you look at the history of surgery and medicine over the last 50 years we've advanced in techniques and skills. The cancer that our son Jared was diagnosed with last year, Osteosarcoma, was the same cancer, in the same location as Canadian hero Terry Fox. Our doctor told us the only difference between Jared's cancer and Terry's was that the tumor was in Jared's left leg while Terry's cancer was in his right leg.
Back in the late 70's the only thing they knew to do was to amputate. But today, they can take the part of the bone that is contaminated and replace it with a rod, this process is called bone salvaging. Back in the 70's they were only about 20 years into experimenting with chemo therapy. What they know now about chemo therapy more than likely would've saved Terry's life. Terry died in 1981. According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, "The 5-year survival rate (of Osteosarcoma patients) from 1980-1989 was 36%, whereas in the 1990s, it was 60% and 67% from 2000–2004." And the survival rate continues to climb, today, according to Jared's doctor, it's about 70 percent. Those who are diagnosed with Osteosarcoma today have a 70 percent survival rate, but, in Terry's day, the survival rate was about 36 percent.
The reason I bring this up is that even with all the advances in medicine and science in the last 50 years, the medicine and science of mental illness still remains a mystery. While we can replace lungs and limbs, we haven't found a way to replace a brain.
When it comes to the brain there is a lot yet to be discovered. And this is one reason we probably don't talk much about mental illness, because the brain is still such a mystery to us. But there are things we do know, and there have been some developments through research and therapy that we can talk about, and obviously, in our case, we want to know what the Bible says about how we love people, all people, no matter what they are dealing with.
You might be wondering why we need to talk about this in church? According to The Canadian Mental Health Association one in five Canadians will suffer some kind of a mental disorder at some point in their life. According to Health Canada, "Every year close to 3,700 people in Canada commit suicide. Many of these deaths could be prevented by early recognition of the signs of suicidal thinking and appropriate intervention, and early identification and effective treatment of mental illness."
Here's some more information from Health Canada, "About 11% of men and 16% of women in Canada will experience major depression in the course of their lives. Depression can limit your quality of life, affect relationships, lead to lost time from work or school and contribute to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. Sometimes it leads to suicide. Fortunately, for most people, depression can be treated effectively."
Nova Scotia Mental Health Services says, "One in five Nova Scotians, or about 188,000 people, will experience some form of mental disorder this year." That's a lot of people. So, here's what I'm thinking as a Jesus follower. I'm told by my Boss that his most important directive for me is to love God and to love others. How can I do that if I ignore the significant and silent problems of almost 25 percent of the people around me?