You Cannot Speak for Everyone

Fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, I get it.

I truly believe you are coming from a place of compassion because you genuinely want to help folks who are suffering with their mental health burden.

But…

Can we please…  (Pretty please?)

…stop pointing fingers at “the Church,” like this article does?

Hey, Church, Stop Sad-Shaming Me!

“Churches try to up-sell Jesus to the mentally ill…

And while it is certainly possible for people of sound mind to align with Christ in ways that achieve a form of happiness, it is equally impossible to expect the same from people with mental illness. Impossible, and unfair. Some of us are simply handicapped by faulty synapses. You can’t teach a dog to sing the alphabet.”

Again, I get it.  People with mental illness are frustrated when Christians oversimplify the problem.  We want to help people who’ve never struggled with mental illness  better understand how BIG and complex the whole thing is…

But, when you claim that your mental illness is “just faulty synapses” you are making the same mistake.  You are oversimplifying your own problem. 


 

I think it’s important to remember that, just because the pastor doesn’t talk about mental illness in a way you would prefer, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Statistically, many of the people in “the Church” (whom you’re wagging fingers at) are struggling with a diagnosed mental disorder of their own. They simply deal with it differently than you do.

And THAT’S why writing blog posts aimed at “the Church” on behalf of  “those with Mental Illness” is a problem.

It doesn’t work for all the same reasons identity advocacy doesn’t work for “blacks” or for “gays” or for “women,” either.

Not all black people have the same experience or opinion.

Not all gay people agree with your list of grievances.

Not all women identify as “Feminists.”

Aaaaaand,  not everybody who has a mental illness believes there is a serious “stigma” at church.  

There are plenty of Christians–struggling with depression/anxiety themselves–who would probably be accused of “sad-shaming” the mentally ill (if they were allowed to speak on this topic without being shushed).

I know, because I am one of them.

First of all, I think it’s unfortunate that I even have to say “I AM ONE OF YOU!” in order to be taken remotely seriously.

It’s almost as though advocates like myself need to flash our Membership Cards, just to get past the bouncers which other advocates have become.

But, that’s how the “conversation” about mental illness looks today.  People trying to #endthestigma are unwittingly (but definitely) shutting down the perspectives of everybody on the other side, by accusing them of “shaming” and “judging” and “perpetuating the problem”–even when the people on the other side ALSO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED with mental illnesses. 

How unfortunate.

It’s a mistake to assume that one speaks for everyone who has ever suffered similarly.

It’s a mistake to start demanding changes and improvements to church programs that you imagine will help you, when it may be a simple matter of preference instead of right/wrong.

I can honestly say that if I ever go to a church counselor or Mental Health Advocate and hear, “Mental illness is just like a broken bone!” I will turn around and walk away annoyed.  (Ditto if he/she says, “You can’t teach a dog to sing the alphabet.”)

That’s one opinion, but it’s not the only one.

During my darkest struggles, I needed to know that others had wrestled with deep, existential questions which deserve to be considered, whether a person has a chemical imbalance or not.   I needed to know I had brothers and sisters willing to explore the uncomfortable depths of my crises, rather than deferring to a pharmacist and washing their hands.

Cheap slogans and shallow hashtags only would have frustrated me more.
___________________________

In short, though it sometimes feels supportive to divide ourselves into teams and speak for all of “us”  against “them,” it usually does more harm in the long run.

So, unless one of the universal symptoms of mental illness is “the ability to discern when others are wrong, with 100% accuracy” we need to stop oversimplifying the problem by blaming the big, misogynist, racist, stigmatizing “Church.”  (It has become the same nameless, faceless monster which other witch-hunters like to call “Society.” And it’s just as caricatured and silly.)

I am part of the Church.

You are part of the Church.

And just because two people may disagree doesn’t mean one of them understands mental illness better than the other.

Neither can speak for everyone else.

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33 thoughts on “You Cannot Speak for Everyone

  1. John Branyan

    Reblogged this on John Branyan and commented:
    Here’s a thing that often comes up in conversation at our house. Since my dad is “bi-polar” all of his bad behavior is excused because he’s “ill”. His idiosyncrasies are also due to his “illness”. My dad is no longer an actual personality but a list of symptoms.

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  2. mrsmcmommy Post author

    As an addendum, the author of the article I cited wrote something toward the bottom of his post that I wanted to include here:

    “…it is time for people who do not struggle with mental affliction – including institutions like the Church – to stop treating it as some taboo anomaly.”

    Classifying the Church as “an institution” rather than a GROUP OF PEOPLE (as it actually is), highlights exactly what I said about creating a faceless caricature before trying to hunt it down. (Other examples include “Patriarchy” and “Privilege”) They become catch-all words for “an evil system,” but you can’t confront them efficiently, because they are concepts rather than living, choice-making people…

    Institutions can’t “stop treating mental illness as taboo” because an institution can’t START treating mental illness as taboo in the first place! 🙂 Institutions don’t think or act.

    Only PEOPLE think and act. And the PEOPLE in the Church are much, much more complicated than some Mental Health Advocates want to admit. We simply can’t divide ourselves into “those who struggle with mental affliction” on one side (claiming they need support) versus “those who DON’T struggle with mental affliction” on the other, (claiming they need to get busy fixing this institutional issue)…

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I have been on medication in the past and plan to take it again when I give birth in a few months, to deal with the symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety. 🙂

      So, hopefully that earns enough credibility with the Bouncers that I can continue writing on this topic in the future…

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  3. Gene

    This is a tricky subject, yeah? Haha 🙂 I’ve had mental health problems ever since…gosh I can’t remember. I’ve been on meds before, before I was a Christian, and I’ve self medicated for years and years (even after becoming a Christian, *gulp*) but ya know? Jesus has never been more close and more intimate with me than during my worst times. He is the “come alongside friend” we all so desperately desire during our times of deepest need. I can see how people get frustrated by a body of believers not being able to help in the specific way a person needs, I was there, but as long as Jesus is the head of that body, it shouldn’t matter what people do or say, right?

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I agree completely… I’ve gone so far as to wonder whether God DESIGNED it so we wouldn’t be able to get what we want/need from other people… I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a blessing (not a defect) that the Church can’t/won’t “come alongside” the way we wish it would…

      But, yes, tricky subject. 🙂

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  4. DB

    I agree with you completely! I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager (I’m in my 50’s now.) I get SO annoyed at this current thing of “what people like me need from the church”. I’m not a victim of my struggles, I’m a human being, a child of God, with struggles. Just that, same as everyone else.

    I’m guessing what “advocates” are reacting to is the way certain individual christians talk to them. I’ve heard Christians (even preachers) say something along the lines that if you know Jesus, he’s the only mental health practitioner you need. “If you’re depressed, it’s because you don’t have enough Jesus in your life. Dealing with anxiety? You just need to trust Jesus more!” Because, yeah, judging the spirituality of others is what Jesus said to do, right? Sigh… Personally, I just I ignore that stuff. If an individual doesn’t understand what I’m dealing with, that’s their issue, not mine. If it’s a pastor taking that stand, that’s harder to deal with, because it’s hard to sit under the leadership of a person that judges you unfairly. (I probably wouldn’t leave a church over that unless the pastor continually made a big deal about it.)

    That said, my mental illness/emotional struggles are my own. I’m the one who deals with them, sometimes with meds, sometimes with counseling. Much of the time I’m fine without either. But through it all Jesus is there, and I lean on him. I have family and friends that are also there for me. I don’t need every person I come in contact with to understand and coddle me, even in the church.

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  5. Dave

    John,
    In the Fall, all facets mankind were affected. That certainly includes our minds.Our “condition” became sinful, and sinful acts are the ourflow of our condition.
    We can’t just blame “The Fall” for every act of sin we do, as if that absolves us of our guilt for committing those sins. The same with mental illness, as I think you were saying.
    The same can be applied to mental illness, as you say. There are things that are different in how mentally ill people think, but the majority of people with mental illness can still differentiate right from wrong, and are held to a level of responsibility in courts of law. While illness can prevent someone from a long prison term, the result is often incarceration in a mental health facility instead.
    Same applies for someone sexually abused as a child who then abuses when they get older. They have been damaged, but are culpable for their own act of abusing, though they have a form of mental/spiritual condition from being abused.
    Now that I have rambled on, I am not sure that I arrived where I was headed, or stayed on topic…
    Dave
    Galatians 3:22 (ESV) – But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

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  6. Jasmine Ruigrok

    Good food for thought. My Bible study group had a discussion about depression recently that raised some intense though good conversation. Something a later raised with my sister was that I don’t think “raising awareness for” or “we need to be talking about” mental illness strategies are what’s needed. I don’t think there is a stigma about depression in the church by and large. What we need is to be honest with one another. Not just talk “about” depression, but be transparent and authentic enough with each other to personally say “hey, I’m struggling with this”. Families don’t sit around talking about communication. They communicate. Which is how we need to operate as the church.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Those last two sentences are spot on!

      The truth is, there are many people WITH depression who don’t want to be vulnerable about it… But that’s not the same as external judgement and it’s certainly not the Church’s fault. I’ve noticed the tendency to blame our own insecurities on others A LOT in Western culture.

      But, yes, treat each other like family, and eventually it will start to FEEL like family, too! Communication becomes easier as you do it. So, if you’re struggling, it’s you’re job to speak up!

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  7. sklyjd

    It is also true that religious belief can be the cause of depression and mental illness. In fact some Christians believe God repairs all mental illness including disadvantaged children’s mental issues with no need for atheist input or drugs, or another way of saying no professional help required, especially from atheists. This I feel is a dangerous bigoted attitude and I am concerned about the church and the children they are involved with.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Wrong thinking definitely does contribute to depression. And that dangerous trend you describe goes both ways. Plenty of depressed Atheists refuse to seek help from religious counselors who could very well help with combined with medication.

      I’ve been part of many churches and none of them have been anti-medication. But I’ve run into LOTS of anti-God folks around here. 🙂

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  8. sklyjd

    The fact that we have trained professionals and advanced medicines that are used for treating most of the mental situations developed by humans should be respected. The fact that a religious belief gets in the way of these treatments as with other medical treatments is extremely dangerous, especially for children’s troubled minds and should be a criminal offence.

    I believe it is not possible for atheists to go to religious councillors unless of course the councillors are suitably trained councillors because then I understand they are not able to sermonise about their faith and must apply the appropriate counselling for the problem presented.

    I agree that most churches would not condone anti-medication. Where I live at least 90% are non-believers and go to church only for funerals or weddings.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      “The fact that a religious belief gets in the way of these treatments…is extremely dangerous.” Good thing that’s not a fact, then! 🙂

      Everybody has religious beliefs, Steve. I know I’ve failed to convince you of this in the past. But, nevertheless…

      The most effective treatments for things like depression and anxiety are combinations of medications AND CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.)

      CBT is, literally, teaching people how to think better…

      The Mind is both physical and incorporeal. If you want to put your faith in secular “experts” ONLY, to teach you how to meditate, that’s fine. (And if you prefer to call it something other than meditation, that’s fine, too.) But, spiritual experts are ALSO experts in positive thought.

      All Atheists have done is picked and chosen which experts to celebrate and which to discredit…

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      1. sklyjd

        I have nothing against spiritual systems such as meditation because I still am and have been a martial arts practitioner for a very long time and I completely understand the benefit of meditation, and as I often suffer from anxiety it is a very effective technique.

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  9. Wally Fry

    My good friend and the man who has been my mentor in the faith was, sadly, one of the anti med people, at least in regard to depression. He thought folks just needed to buck up an move on. That is, until he himself suffered from it. That was a dose of reality he now uses to help others.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about long-term medication… But it’s something I’m constantly weighing.

      There is SO MUCH data about medications losing effectiveness over time–and being no better than placebo for cases of “mild” depression/anxiety.

      It’s complicated.

      But, yes, as I mentioned to SoM, I’ve been on medication in the past, for a few months at a time. If it WORKS, then it works because God designed it that way… So…

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  10. Wally Fry

    Oh, and don’t mind sklyjd, he has been in a tiff ever since I started posting on taking kids to church camp last week, and is convinced I hate atheists for some reason. I think he takes issue with my thinking that taking kids to camp who have a crummy home life and loving them for a week might do them some good.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Well, Wally, it’s because the only kids who have crummy home lives are Christian kids.

      Obviously, if their parents are Atheists, you’re just SAYING they have crummy home lives because you’re biased.

      (Sklyjd is unbiased.)

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      1. sklyjd

        All I am saying is you do not have to take medication or professional help but it should not be discarded as CS seems to think. I believe as you all believe that whatever can be done to improve their lives should be done. However, I do not believe someone like CS with preconceived ideas of using religious indoctrination as a cure for mental illness is a wise choice at all, do you?

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      2. mrsmcmommy Post author

        I’m not interested in talking about CS when he’s not here. Something tells me he would raise his eyebrows at your phrase “ideas of using religious indoctrination as a cure for mental illness.” Sounds like your words rather than his. lol. Therefore, if he wants to come and get involved with the discussion, he’s welcome. But, until then, there’s no reason to continue discussing what HE believes or doesn’t believe.

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      3. Wally Fry

        ” someone like CS with preconceived ideas of using religious indoctrination as a cure for mental illness”

        See, here is the issue with your comments Steve. 9 times out of 10 they are simply factually untrue. That was never said, nor was it even hinted at. I suspect you desperately want it to have been said, but it was not.

        You have this broad brush you paint Christians with as folks who reject anything that happened since 1850 or something. Again, that is factually untrue.

        You make broad statements that religious belief gets in the say of psychological and medical treatment. Again, factually untrue. If you disagree, I suggest you take it up with the millions of Christians who have been successfully treated for both mental and physical illnesses. Many of them were even nutty fundies like me.

        Blanket statements based on untruth make a fellow look foolish Steve.

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  11. sklyjd

    This was aimed at Wally because he knows what I am on about, however I am not allowed to discuss it on his blog site.

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    1. Wally Fry

      Really Steve? You weren’t allowed.? Yes, I did say further atheist preaching on that post would be summarily deleted. You weren’t actually discussing the content of the post, but rather preaching atheist sermons. You were actively and maliciously attempting to interfere with my efforts to encourage and exhort other Christians to do good for others. Seemingly because Christians are not to be allowed to do anything, even if it is good.

      I won’t discuss it with you any more at Amanda’s place, either, as this post is not about that.

      How very sad you are Steve.

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    2. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Please don’t hijack my comment thread to continue a discussion that is off topic. (Even if you’re somehow trying to make it relevant to what I’ve written, I can tell what you’re doing and I don’t really appreciate it.)

      If you want to talk about something specific, write your own blog post. Don’t try and control the discussion on my blog or Wally`s and then complain that nobody wants to talk to you anymore. 🙂

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      1. sklyjd

        It appears as usual that when the issue of your religious practice becomes controversial it is shut up shop. Fair enough I will leave you both to your comfortable one sided arguments and I will leave you with statements that can only mean a rejection of common sense and the indoctrination of mentally challenged kids.
        ‘broken things’ can only be restored, repaired, or made right, PERMANENTLY, not by the shallow super glue of godlessness or drugs, but of repair that comes by the creator and Redeemer of mankind, who alone, makes all things a new.” “God’s word answers all issue of life.”

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