By Heidi Goehmann
The choice to take any medication is a big one. Popping a Tylenol in for a headache in our daily life may not weigh heavily on us, but even deciding to give our child an antibiotic or drag our adult selves to the doctor is a big one. Breadth of need, side effects, and co-pays all factor in to our decision to take or avoid a medication.
But I see a not-so-new trend rearing its head in the matter – shame.
The reality is that we all have an opinion. We want to care for ourselves and our families, the very best that we can. We want to be good stewards of this temple that God has entrusted us with, housing His Spirit. Our bodies do matter. They are gifts. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return, but for the space in between, God has given us limbs and brains and beating hearts, along with our reason and senses. The struggle is in sorting out what that looks like for our individual lives.
Mental health care is even more complicated. Maybe this is because our mental health is so very personal. I cannot see mental health issues like I can cancer on a scan, or blockage in an artery. But it’s very much connected to who we are as a person. And we live in a world that fear mongers what we cannot see, what we do not know. It leaves us uncomfortable on both sides of the coin. Those who struggle with mental health concerns feel isolated, vaguely ostracized, and afraid to speak up. Those who do not struggle, read stories and make assumptions, because we desperately want to understand it and when we can’t we create ideas and viewpoints so we feel better about it.
As a mental health care worker there are a few things I have the privilege of seeing that I’m not sure everyone has the benefit of understanding.
- Shame still has a tight grip on mental health care.
If you or someone you know is seeing a psychiatrist, diagnosed with a mental illness, or is taking medication, know that they are fighting a real battle in our culture against shame. Taking long term heart medication is relatively the same as taking a mood stabilizer for those with Bipolar, and just as necessary, but culturally we see one as acceptable and another as a serious deficit, as failure. We attribute mental illness to the controllable, like family dynamics, making bad choices, or needing to get a better perspective. Years ago, we learned however that mental health care is absolutely a problem in brain function, almost 100% of the time. Studies show more and more each day how genetics, neurodiversity, and neuropathways effect and define our mental health as individuals. Our environments and life choices impact our mental health, but most often chemistry is the underlying cause of mental health concerns. This unwarranted shame is impacting those struggling every day. People are afraid to seek help, take medications, and give and receive support because we don’t want to be identified with mental health issues any closer than we need to be. The Church is also the only entity with the full answer. We don’t have to shame, because we have Jesus, and forgiveness, and restoration.
- Treatment takes time and creativity.
We really do want a magic pill…badly. I’d love a magic pill to cure cancer, to halt Alzheimer’s in its tracks, to suppress epilepsy and asthma. But this does not exist, and that’s ok. God values the struggle and the journey, just as much as He does the cure. He often heals through time and people. We love the Jesus who heals instantly and miraculously, but do we value the Jesus who heals in His time and not our own? Yes! Of course we do. It’s painful and hard, but we don’t believe in Him any less because His healing looks different than we desire or expect. It’s important to know that mental health treatment is best with a combination of therapies. Medication is important in many circumstances. Therapeutic approaches such as EMDR for trauma, DBT for anxiety and depression, and other research-based therapies are just as vital. Almost any health care professional will tell you they recommend a combination of therapies over time to care for any diagnosis. How can we release the shame of seeking therapy or medication for real life struggles? Again, we have Jesus. He sees us as individuals and invites us to care for people as individuals. We can avoid blanketing what we “think” treatment should look like for everyone who ever experienced depression, and help ourselves or family and friends seek what works best for them, individually.
- We are invited to advocate for ourselves and those we love.
Jesus advocates for us before the Father, and in this He saves us from sin, death, and the devil. And so He also shows us that advocating has a place. You know your body better than anyone else. Family and friends, and church families want the absolute best for their loved one struggling. Advocate away! Find a specialist. Primary care physicians are awesome and know your story, but many issues call for a specialist. It’s hard to get into a specialist at times and living in a rural area presents a new challenge, but fight for the best care possible. It’s worth the drive, and oftentimes specialists will work in connection with a family care provider to lighten the burden. If you get one doctor you are unsure about, ask around and find another one. Ask questions, learn how to read the research, and find a local NAMI group that can help you find the resources.
Jesus cared for His disciples and the weary flock during His advent on our soil, not because they were perfect, but because they were broken; because they were stubborn sheep who could not find their way on their own, because they were His and He loved them. He cares no less for us.
He stands alongside us in the struggle. He intercedes for us in prayer. He binds up our wounds and heals our diseases. We get to see Him work in unexpected ways when health concerns enter our lives. We are given a whole new vantage point of the brokenness of the world, in and around us, when we have to wrestle.
In a world, and a culture, that holds out shame, may we hold out only the True Hope, as we care for our own bodies and our neighbors as well.
You can find more information about the church and mental health at Grace Place Wellness Ministries.