Below are answers to some common questions people have when facing a mental illness.
Q. What is mental health?
A. Mental health includes our physical, emotional, psychological, relational, spiritual and cultural wellbeing. It can affect the way we think, feel, act, make decisions, relate to others and God, and how we handle stress. It can also vary over time and across circumstances. It is normal for everyone to have good days and bad days. On good days, we may feel like we are flexible and can adapt to many different stressors and life circumstances such as school, work, relationships, and/or how we feel about ourselves. However, on bad days, we may feel like we can’t cope with stressors and feel overwhelmed and stuck. Sometimes, these variations in wellbeing can change from hour to hour or day to day, and can last for weeks, months, or longer. In other words, there is a mental health continuum. Everyone falls somewhere on the continuum and our mental health can move in either direction throughout our life. At SFSG, we believe that we should love our neighbors (people impacted by mental illness) as ourselves, and this includes mental wellness. (Mark 12:31 NIV)
Q. What influences our mental health?
A. Many factors influence our mental health, including:
Biological factors: physical health (or illness), genetics, neurotransmitters (brain chemistry), medications, supplements, alcohol and drugs
Cultural factors: how mental illness is communicated, viewed and identified influences attitudes, help seeking behaviors, and treatment. Culture can also perpetuate stigma and increase stressors. Migration places stresses on minorities in a majority culture.
Environmental factors: socioeconomics, diet, exercise, life experiences such as trauma, loss, abuse and/or neglect
Psychological factors: emotions and attitudes, learning, values, beliefs, and stress management
Social factors: family, peer relationships, culture, support systems, stigma
Spiritual factors: As Christians, we have the opportunity to receive love, compassion, peace, comfort and grace from God. This can be a tremendous asset in spiritually coping with mental illness.
Q. What is mental illness?
A. There are varying definitions of mental illness but most will agree that, just like physical illness, there are many different types of mental illness. It can cause people to think, feel, and act differently than they usually do. It can disrupt one’s mood or ability to relate to others and their daily functioning. It also often interferes with one’s ability to effectively cope with ordinary life challenges and routines. Some mental illnesses are more severe than others, and have more noticeable symptoms. For people going through these difficulties, it can feel confusing, overwhelming or even frightening. Serious mental illnesses can impact daily life including going to school or work, relationships, expression of one’s faith, and eating and sleeping patterns. With proper care and treatment, many people learn to cope with the illness and continue functioning in their daily lives. Mental illness is real, highly treatable and most people who experience mental health difficulties are able to live happy and successful lives.
Q. How common is mental illness?
A. Studies indicate that mental health problems are common in at least one out of every five people. This number is difficult to substantiate, however, due to the shame and stigma associated with having a mental illness and underreporting is likely to occur. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness results in more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. On a global level, mental disorders have been found to be common with over a third of people in most countries.
Q. What causes mental illness?
A. Just like any physical illness, mental illness can affect people from any age group, culture, economic background, nationality or faith background. A number of factors have been associated with mental illness. Some of these factors include:
Family history: Most illnesses, both mental and physical, have a genetic component. This means that if someone related to you has a mental health difficulty, then you may be at higher risk of having a mental health problem.
Chemical imbalance: An imbalance of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in the brain can cause mental illness. Most medications that are prescribed to manage mental illnesses will try to correct this imbalance.
Stressful life events: Stressors such as grief, significant loss, anxiety, or experiencing violence or a traumatic event, might trigger a mental health problem.
Drug use: Research shows that use of drugs can be associated with mental illnesses. It should also be noted, however, that sometimes drug or alcohol abuse can be indicative of an individual who is attempting to self-medicate.
Q. What are the different types of mental illness?
A. There are many types of mental illnesses, and they can affect a person at any stage – children, youth and adults. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) action plan through 2020, the term “mental disorders” is used to denote a range of mental and behavioral disorders that fall within the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (Tenth revision). These include disorders that cause a high burden of disease globally such as depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, dementia, substance use disorders, intellectual disabilities, and developmental and behavioral disorders with onset usually occurring in childhood and adolescence, including autism. For an explanation of some of the most common types of mental illnesses, click here for SFSG downloadable .pdf’s.
Q. What are the main factors in recovery?
A. One thing to note about recovery is that it is a process, a journey. It is not a destination, and there are many, many guiding principles to consider while on the recovery journey. You will find SFSG’s overarching model and perspective unique. When we went through our own journey of discovering what recovery looks like, we had nowhere to turn that included or integrated our Christian faith. SFSG’s uniquely developed Grace Based© Recovery Model was built upon the foundation that faith is an asset in recovery, and our hope rests in Jesus Christ. Please click here to view our training for individuals living with mental illness.
Q. How do you help a person who is living with mental illness and does not want help?
A. This question reveals part of the answer. It may be what you want for them, yet at the same time you must still respect what they want. First of all, you can certainly pray that God would, in His compassion, bring His grace to the person. However, it should be noted that some individuals will not be open to prayer and it may be best to pray from a distance. Here are some quick and practical tips:
Build trust by showing your support and listening. Trust is the platform by which change can occur. Be available. Express your concern and empathy, talk openly and make sure that your friend or family member knows that he/she is not alone. The most important thing you can do is offer and be available if/when they need it, and to really hear them. You can leverage this trust with the treatment options you are ready and armed with, once your loved one is ready to obtain care.
Ask what you can do to help. You can leave this open-ended (“I want to know how I can best support you.”) or suggest specific tasks that might be helpful (“Can I drive you to your appointment?”). Then, be sure to show up and follow through! Remember, you are trust building.
Reassure your friend or family member that you still care about him/her. Even if he/she doesn’t always feel like talking or spending time together, it can be a comfort just to know that he/she has friends that care. A forceful approach usually will not bring the outcome you want.
Educate yourself about your friend or family member’s specific disorder. This can help you to know what to expect and to discover what options are available for care.
Support your friend or family member’s healthy behaviors in practical ways.
Ensure safety and draw healthy boundaries for yourself. Make sure that you are staying healthy and shed yourself of any resentment, guilt or shame that you may be carrying for what you cannot see happening with your loved one. That’s not for you to carry, just be there when they need you and support them as best you can.
If you’re concerned about someone, start by talking with the person. If they are open to receiving help, then connect them with a professional. Just as you would likely go to an oncologist for cancer or a dermatologist for skin sensitivities, mental illness should be treated by a mental health professional.
For more information regarding Saving Face Saving Grace® tools and training for family members, click here.
Q. Should mental illness be approached from a biological and/or spiritual perspective?
A. This is a great question, and there are many facets to mental illness. As such, SFSG approaches mental health care holistically. In other words, we do everything we can on our part, all the while letting God do His part. God can bring healing through both natural and supernatural means.
First, we can provide physical care. If there is something wrong with our body, i.e. heart or kidneys we would commonly go to a specialist and treat it with medicine and/or other medical therapies. Likewise, if there is something wrong with our brain, we would encourage you to seek treatment under the care of a medical doctor and, specifically, a specialist. Consider referring a person the same way you would if they have symptoms of diabetes or cancer. Treatment might include medication management, a healthy lifestyle regimen and other evidence based practices.
Second, there is emotional care. Research shows that in order for treatment to be effective, it is common to couple medication management [physical] and counseling [emotional] to see increased wellness outcomes. It should be noted that treatment options vary depending on nature and severity of diagnosis. Professional therapy and/or trauma informed care may provide additional support and the best outcomes.
Third, mental illness can affect us in the area of relationships. All too often, the symptoms of mental illness can, to varying degrees, affect our relationships at work, school, and home. That is why it is imperative to introduce resources that create community for the person affected i.e., support groups, education based groups, other advocacy groups, projects or clubs.
Last, but certainly not least, is spiritual care. One of the best ways to care for someone living with mental illness is to offer spiritual care in the form of compassionate empathy, the ministry of presence, and/or encouraging access to church groups such as college ministry, small groups, serve projects, etc. Research shows that one’s faith in God tremendously increases resilience, especially for people living with mental illness.
From a strictly spiritual perspective, God’s wisdom and knowledge far exceed any earthly knowledge or research, and we cannot put limits to His power. Jesus is the Great Physician. Healing occurs today in modern society, just as it did in ancient biblical times. Healing can occur both through natural medicine and therapies, as well as through the supernatural move of God’s hand and healing power. Since the Holy Spirit is our ultimate counselor and comforter, we want to use discernment and yield to his wisdom and direction. At SFSG, we don’t want to limit God on His timing, nor how He can or will bring about healing. As such, we encourage healing prayer, as appropriate, coupled with traditional treatments for people living with mental illness, just as we would for anyone getting assistance for heart disease, cancer, or any other physical ailment.
In essence, we wish to promote wellness in all areas. We know that God cares about the whole person: physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, etc. and, if we look through multiple lenses, it allows us to be Christ-centered in all aspects of care.
For SFSG’s Training for leaders, laypersons and frontline staff, click here.
For a great article related to this topic, see Ed Stetzer’s, ” The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness”, by clicking here.
Q. How is Saving Face Saving Grace® (SFSG) different than other mental health organizations?
A. SFSG is leading others to help and hope. Our integrative model looks at the best of 3 worlds. First, we focus on the latest emerging and best research based practices. Second, we apply what the Bible says about wellness and care and third, we draw on the life experiences and important lessons learned in recovery from Christians impacted by mental illness. The integration of these three perspectives informs SFSGs training and outreach ministries and programs. See SFSG’s uniquely developed Grace Based© Recovery Model. For more information on Saving Face Saving Grace®, click here.