If you are looking for an appropriate way to respond to a person struggling with a mental illness, look to Job’s friends. Not when they made the mistake of opening their mouths to try to explain his suffering, but when they first arrived and simply sat with him in silence.
– from Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission (The story of one pastor’s battle with bipolar disorder) by Tony Roberts (A Way with Words Publishing, 2014), page 33.
Mental illness can directly or indirectly affect anyone, whatever our gender, race, education, income, religion, or church involvement. The following 30-second video offers some helpful perspective:
In Canada, 20% of the population will personally experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, 8% will experience major depression, 1% bipolar disorder. For deaths among 15-24-year-olds, death by suicide accounts for 24%; for deaths of 25-44-year-olds, death by suicide is 16%. (Statistics from Canadian Mental Health Association).
Mental illness is also part of the church as Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (IVP, 2014) shares in the following video:
Amy has also written an endorsement for Delight in Disorder by Tony Roberts, describing it as a hope-filled resource “we have long needed.”
Like Amy, I find it to be a book of hope–one that’s firmly rooted in God’s compassion and faithful presence whatever the storms of life and mental illness may bring.
Tony begins with his own personal journey through depression and bipolar disorder, through medication, hospitalization, and counseling, through marriage and family stress, through serving the church as a pastor, through working in a frenzy to not being able to work at all to swallowing too many pills. He shares candidly about his experience as a young pastor in a new church (page 12):
I was full of myself, but little else.
When growth was slow, I fell down in despair.
And looked to a new drug to pick me up.
Effexor did just that–
It picked me up and kept me up for six solid days and nights.
Street signs became messages from God.
Ideas became revelations.
Feverous with a mission, not to assuage but to save,
I started crying during sermons
And laughing when I was alone.
The rest of the book is a collection of short pieces, just a page or two each, as Tony continues to reflect on his own personal experience, offers sound pastoral perspective, and considers Scripture, movies, and books related to mental illness.
Some of these short pieces are immensely practical, like “Rest for Your Weary Soul” and “Ten Things to Look for in a Psychiatrist.” Others are more inspirational, like “Trust in God,” “Majesty vs. Mania,” and “From the Depths of the Earth.” Tony ponders Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and others who have experienced mental illness. He comments on mental illness and pastoral ministry, bipolar disorder and homelessness, and other specific issues.
I appreciate these bite-sized pieces, and the larger Delight in Disorder mission to share hope with people who experience mental illness and foster compassion within faith communities.
One final word of hope from his personal story (page 19):
Some people ask me now how someone who claims
To have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ
Could try to kill himself.
My only answer is —
Though I’ve wanted to give up on God,
God hasn’t given up on me.
Now I’ve come back to the outskirts of Nineveh,
I’m hiding from the scorching sun,
Grateful for the shade God provides.
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