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Reflecting on What’s Good
“…whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (from Phil. 4:8)

In recent years a quiet and steady progression of news about mental illness has seeped into the media on many fronts.  A long line of witnesses have spoken out about their diagnoses of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and have revealed their agonizing struggles along with their successes. The news is bold and good.

For instance, beginning in January 2011, the Grand Rapids Press newspaper started a yearlong series about mental illness to challenge the stigmas and myths that cause fear and misunderstanding. They published the most recent of over 30 articles last month.  In April, the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed her struggle with bipolar disorder.

In a November 2011 issue of the British newspaper, The Independent, the health editor noted some of the top myths associated with mental illness and said he agreed to join the Commission on Schizophrenia.  “The media bears a heavy responsibility,” admitted Jeremy Laurance, “about linking violence with mental illness. The Mental Health Commission of Canada announced a plan “to accelerate Canada’s emerging social movement in mental health.” Their goal is to “engage one million Canadians to support fundamental changes in mental health.”

In the same month the New York Times printed a full length article about a gentleman named Milt Greek who suffered from symptoms of schizophrenia. The article states from the beginning that Greek “has built something exceptional: a full life, complete with a family and a career.”  Greek learned to live with the symptoms of schizophrenia by managing medication, exposure to stress, and his thinking process.

Renewing the Mind  
…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest…”

Challenging and managing thoughts had not been emphasized in recent decades as an aspect of treatment for schizophrenia.  Traditional talk therapy saw a decline as pharmaceutical therapy increased.  In the past several years a more “holistic” approach to treatment of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses has surged, along with the use of cognitive therapy and counseling to reduce or temper symptoms.  Greek’s story supports the benefits of targeting the thought process.

Recognizing the Need
“…whatsoever things are just… ”

In spite of the modest gains made bringing mental illness out of the shadows, professionals and caregivers and consumers recognize the need for much more work.  In response to the story about Greek, psychiatrists wrote about the need to merge a range of treatments for people suffering from mental illness, besides medication alone; the need to understand the long-held beliefs and life mission of sufferers; and the desperate need to make comprehensive help available to those with low income.

Education and publicity help to strip errors from the myths and stigma, yet the process takes time.  Laurance, Health Editor of The Independent, noted the top myth about schizophrenia is that the illness “permanently disables sufferers.”   Greek, along with many others, unravels the myth.  According to the statistics quoted by Laurance, “only one in five people diagnosed with the illness is affected for life.  Of the rest, one will recover within five years and three will sometimes be well and sometimes not so well.”

The statistics leave consumers and caregivers with a mix of hope, uncertainty, and struggle.  The news in mental health treatment sounds good, particularly if you have access to all aspects of treatment, along with a supportive family.  If you are reading this post and see yourself or someone you know as the one in five who is severely affected for life, I know of few words to bring you immediate comfort though I believe, without doubt, that God will uphold you.

Reaching For the God of Peace
“…and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul prayed that suffering Colossians would be “strengthened with all might according to his (God’s) glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”¹  To exhibit patience and holy joy while suffering points to a power greater than most of us have, a power greater than pain.  It is divine. Reader, please pray for this grace for people you know who suffer every day, and for yourself.

Paul’s prayers and actions were bold and good.  God’s promises and actions are bold and good.  May you have strength today to boldly trust that God will extend his loving kindnesses and peace to you.  Whatever your circumstances or level of support, may you have strength to continue to do “those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen …and the God of peace shall be with you.”²

References:

“Why Our Fear of People with Mental Illness is all in the Mind,” by Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, November 22, 2011.

“Finding Purpose After Living with Delusion,” by Benedict Carey, The New York Times, November 25, 2011.

Grand Rapids Press yearlong series “Changing Our Minds”:  http://topics.mlive.com/tag/Changing%20Our%20Minds/index-2.html

¹ Colossians 1:7

² Philippians 4:9

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