People who go to church usually have better mental health than people who don’t. Almost half of people facing a mental illness crisis turn to the church first. Still …
People Fear Stigma and Discrimination, Even at Church
Lots of people are worried that people at church will discriminate against them if they know about their mental illness. In the very place where everyone wants an authentic community, many people with mental illnesses are living behind masks.
Living with bipolar disorder shapes my life in ways that many people define as “broken.” It often makes me an outsider. It can generate thoughts and behaviors that make other people anxious if I allow them entry to my world. It makes me subject to both stigma and discrimination in both subtle and not so subtle forms.
Still, I would say that my condition adds value to my life and to the Body of Christ. It allows me to serve in places where others are afraid to go and challenges me to seek God in ways others feel uncompelled. Here are 7 ways I’ve noticed that mental illness helps me to know God.
A few years back, I interviewed for a 20-hour job at a mental health nonprofit. The part-time, benefit-free position offered a paycheck comparable to what a hospital in the same city paid its part-time switchboard operators, but since everyone seemed to consider me overqualified to run a switchboard, I kept applying for positions in line with my experience.
I made it to the second interview and found the team quite concerned about whether I would be able to consistently represent their views about mental health at all times, in all places. Even though I was being considered for a part-time role outside the community where I lived.
This wasn’t the first time that an organization expected my paycheck to buy round-the-clock commitment. I started my career in news media at a time when they were expected to be politically “impartial” and so prohibited staff from any public engagement in causes. I later worked for a large civil engineering company that was often the presenting consultant at local meetings. I therefore could only participate as a citizen in public hearings when I agreed with the view the firm propounded.
In the case of the engineering firm, the paycheck was big enough to buy almost anything. In the case of the news operation, the honor of the profession (at that time) allowed me to walk proud even under constraints on my citizenship.
But the idea that I should never express a view about mental illness different from that of my part-time employer in exchange for less than $15,000 a year — I found that staggering. I didn’t think it would be a problem to present their program to potential funders, but it would definitely be a problem to limit myself to their perspectives during the remaining 7,696 hours per year.
Envision this scene with me. I’m the editor of New England Church Life, sitting at my desk in the crowded offices of Vision New England, a 100-year-old religious organization that serves congregations in more than 50 different denominations. I’m looking out my window across the parking lot as I talk to my current interview subject on the phone. He’s just put out a book that has a lot of people laughing behind their hands and a lot of reviewers laughing out loud in their magazine pages: 87 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1987.
Okay, you’ve already decided he’s crazy just because of the title. But I’m an interviewer. I don’t have that freedom. So I’m asking questions about the book, why he wrote it, how he got the idea, how he found the time … all the usual questions.
Except one of the answers doesn’t add up. Literally. Because I’m a Navy brat and he’s former Navy and his years of service don’t work out. Tours of duty come in multiples of certain numbers of years and he’s out early. Continue reading →