Book Review

Troubled Minds

Mental Illness and the Church's Mission

reviewed by Kat Franchino

IVP Books, 2013

Amy Simpson grew up keeping secrets. The daughter of a father who was a pastor, and a mother who struggled with schizophrenia, Simpson kept quiet about her family’s struggles with mental health, even as her mother tumbled in and out of psychosis. As Simpson writes in her book Troubled Minds, she and her siblings “…adopted Unspoken Rules 1, 2 and 3 … Don’t talk about it. Everything is fine. No one outside the family will understand.”

People outside the family should understand, though. With one in four adult Americans suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder and one in 17 suffering from serious and chronic mental illness, mental health should be a topic freely discussed and addressed in our society, especially in our churches.

Instead, churches are filled with silent sufferers. Troubled Minds is a call for the church—pastors, laypersons and members—to reexamine its treatment of people suffering from mental illness. While some churches reach out through programs and support groups, the vast majority avoid directly addressing mental health issues. Through interviews with clergy and those suffering from mental illness, Simpson discovered that many churches are ill-equipped to help and instead focus on other topics, refuse to accept that mental illness exists or, in some cases, quietly usher those suffering out the door. Simpson also found that even if a church encouraged a member to seek help, it rarely stayed engaged in the healing and treatment processes.

In churches, “…people have little tolerance for sticky messes,” writes Simpson. “These messes slow us down and require us to wrestle with questions we’d rather avoid … Mental illness is exactly this kind of mess; ministering to people with mental illness requires us to get closer to them than—let’s be honest—many of us would like to get.”

For centuries mental illness has been chalked up to demons, sinfulness and poor decision-making. Despite scientific breakthroughs and an increase in dialogue about mental health, these beliefs still plague society and cause communities to shy away from, instead of reaching out to, individuals and families suffering from mental illness. Churches are no exceptions.

Simpson describes mental illness as the “no casserole illness,” and rightfully so. While congregations flock to provide food, rides and child care to members stricken with illnesses like cancer and heart disease, the homes of those with mental disorders are often devoid of such visits. And unlike other illnesses, Simpson adds, some mental health illnesses, especially serious and chronic ones such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, might never go away—a daunting thought for both those suffering from illness and those caring for them.

Troubled Minds is a reminder that the Church must directly address mental health issues through caring, compassionate ministries. As Simpson weaves her own experience with mental illness with interviews, history and statistics, she simultaneously challenges the Church to rethink mental health. “Don’t hold out for people to get well,” she writes toward the end of the book. “Don’t require them to make you comfortable with them before you’ll minister to them.”

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