I recently heard about the tragic loss of a young, beautiful woman, barely in her thirties. The sorrow was compounded by the fact that this girl committed suicide. From the look of things, she was a well-adjusted and normal young adult with dreams and hopes for a future. However, it was not so.
This incident sent me down a trail of tears, prayer and reflection. I thought about the young ladies I mentor and how vulnerable they, and frankly we all are to the lies continually propagated by a highly secularistic world. In addition, I considered the stigma of mental illness that is prevalent in the church. According to a study of acute mental illness and Christian faith carried out by LifeWay Research, 1 in 5 pastors have struggled with mental illness of some kind; 59% of pastors have counseled one or more people who were eventually diagnosed with an acute mental illness and 48% of Christians believe serious mental illness can be cured by prayer alone. With these statistics on a steady rise I wonder why we do not address these issues head on.
It is taboo to talk about mental illness in Africa. In fact, victims of this disease are shunned and in some cases not allowed to socialize and even worse ostracized. When they do succumb to the depression, they are not given a proper burial. Christians have also been at the fore of stigmatization. In many cases, these individuals are told that they are demonized; other cases are over simplified with statements such as read your bible and pray every day and the heaviness will lift or just get over it! While prayer and the Bible are an effective tool, unfortunately it targets only one aspect of the human being; the spirit. A holistic approach that targets the body, soul and spirit goes a long way in addressing core issues bringing about health.
Ironically, those who battle depression do not go around declaring how depressed they are. It has become the norm to flippantly use statements, such as I’m so depressed or I’m emo to describe the normal low moments of life. Depression is a cancer, it envelopes an individual with a cloud of darkness so bleak that the individual loses the right to self.
The church in Africa, particularly Kenya must rise and address these issues. While more pastors and lay people are going back to school to pursue Christian counseling and psychology, more forums should be facilitated, to expose the church in general to what mental illness is and how everyone can offer social support without being overwhelmed. This can be in the form of sermon series’ geared to equip the church with tools to deal with the same. Mental illness, like any other disease, it treatable. However, seeking the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist is usually not the first option when faced with troubled or hard to deal with emotions. Just like we seek out physicians for bodily diseases, we should seek the counsel of professional psychologists when we are not able to adjust to the changes and stresses of life.
I would like to hear from you. Maybe you or someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness. What are some of the ways you are coping with the disease? How is your church engaging with the mentally ill in their congregation? Because the Church is you and I, what are you doing to support your friends or family members who are battling mental illness?