Occasionally this summer I’ll share some thoughts about a few books that I have found interesting, and because I want to be sure you have plenty of summer reading! First off, a pair of books on the topic of mental illness.
Christians Get Depressed Too, by David P. Murray. In my estimation, this book will be helpful for a very particular part of the Christian church, those who wonder if or believe that depression is only a spiritual disorder. ( I’m not implying that depression doesn’t have a spiritual component. It does. But it also has hereditary, biochemical, and physical components as well.)
On the plus side, this book is short. I don’t mean that as a joke. It is intentionally short because depressed people typically don’t have the energy or motivation to read a lengthy book. The author is to be applauded for taking the needs of his readers into consideration. In that same vein,this book doesn’t try to say everything there is to say about depression, there is one main message: depression is a real illness and needs to be treated with therapy and medication. That is pretty much the book in a nutshell. As I said earlier, for a particular segment of Christianity this is an important message and this book will be quite helpful in making that message clear and accessible.
If, however, you already accept that depression is an illness with physical causes, there is not much to be gained by reading this book. Although it can help you frame your response more effectively if someone asks about mental illness and demons. The author repeatedly encourages the reader to talk with their pastor and to get a referral to a Christian therapist or counseling center. It is a good idea for people to talk to their pastors. Your pastor can be a tremendous help to people struggling with depression. ( Whether or not a Christian needs to have a Christian therapist, or doctor is a topic for another day. Personally, I’m more interested in finding a really good therapist. God is perfectly capable of working through non Christians.) A serious omission in the book is that he does not address clearly what to do if your pastor doesn’t think depression is a medical condition which requires treatment and won’t help you find appropriate medical treatment. A few comments about what to do in this situation would be very helpful, as would links to websites for lists of competent Christian therapists and psychiatric hospitals.
For certain people this book could be very helpful, but personally I will be very selective about to whom I recommend this book.
I have a much more enthusiastic recommendation for Amy Simpson’s book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. This book has been getting enthusiastic reviews and deservedly so. Through a skillful and effective use of her families experiences and clear explanation of pertinent medical facts, Ms Simpson offers a wake up call and a challenge to the church.
She shares her families story of life with a mother who has a serious mental illness and she shares their churches response. She gives a brief but understandable run down of the major types of mental illness and their treatments. She wants the church to begin thinking about mental illness and responding to persons with mental illness in the same way we respond to persons with physical illnesses. Just a people and their families rely on their congregation for support as they live with cancer, or heart disease or any other serious, long term illness, families who live with mental illness should be able to rely on their congregation for support.
The best part of this book is the way she offers very practical ways for congregations to care for its members (and their families) who are affected by mental illness. Her suggestions are practical and possible regardless of the size of the congregation. This ideas are not expensive. They, mostly, do not require extensive training. There are ideas in this book your church can begin doing in the next three months.
This is not a book for people or families in the midst of a mental health crisis. It is a book that belongs in the hands of church governing bodies and church deacons. If I were the pastor of a church, I would give this book to every active ruling elder and deacon ( and a few inactive ones as well!).