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How Should Christians Think About Mental Illness?

Truth in Love 73

Are mental illnesses biblical?

Apr 5, 2017

Heath Lambert: Our guest this week is Dr. George Sanders. He is a physician and the Los Angeles area, and he is a certified counselor with ACBC. And this week, Dr. Sanders and I are talking about the issue of mental illness. This is something that Christians have talked about a great deal because it’s a topic of conversation in the wider culture. And so, we want to as we do about everything want to have a uniquely biblical approach to thinking about this issue. So, Dr. Sanders, we are so glad that you’re with us this week and I wonder what some of the ways you believe mental illness is misunderstood in our popular culture?

George Sanders: Nice to be with you Heath and thanks for the invite. In our popular culture many people think of mental illness as a brain illness. They don’t think of it as mental, as much as they do the brain. And I think that’s really a product of evolutionary thinking, we’re a group of molecules that have been acted upon by natural selection to yield human organism. And our brain is really the end point of all that. So just as other parts of the body may become ill, you can have diabetes, you can have heart failure, so the medical model of illness really carries over into brain illness. People think of mental illness as brain illness and the implication for that is medical treatments would be effective, things like medications. So, if you have a mental illness the thought is, well, I should be able to take a medication and that should make it right. The reality is that most of these medications if they help, good, but many do less than that. And in fact, many of them have significant side effects that are really a problem. Just look at the theory of chemical imbalance, which is still something that people kick around in. A lot of people believe, it basically says that your mental problems are a result of a chemical imbalance in your brain, in the neurotransmitter levels in the synapses and that by correcting that with medications, antidepressants, you can effectively cure depression. Well, we know the theory is not true and we know that those medications for the most part are not only ineffective, but in many cases, quite harmful. So, this is how the general population thinks of mental illness. Also, the thought is that if it’s a brain issue, if the brain is sick, since the brain is the seat of the will according to our population, then whatever you would do in terms of actions behavior is excusable. So, if you have someone who has a mental illness and they’re doing things that are even against the law, that’s excusable because they are not in control of their brain. So that’s how our culture in large part views mental illness.

Heath Lambert: We do not have the luxury of as biblical Christians of stopping with what the culture thinks about something, we need to take every thought, captive to obey Christ. And so, as a Christian man, as a Christian physician, as a Biblical counselor, help us understand what the Bible has to say about the topic of mental illness. How should we think about this biblically? 

George Sanders: But whenever we think of the Bible course, we think of it as the ultimate source of truth. Truth about God, truth about man, truth about our behaviors. We think about God scripture is very clear, God is a holy God, we as men have sinned against God, do so repeatedly all have fallen short of the glory of God. But God has made a way, and that way is through Christ who gave his life as a sacrifice. And for those, who would by faith as a grace gift of God, believe in him there is hope we are basically excused from the penalty of sin and also from the influence of sin in our lives, to the degree that we rely on the resources that are in Christ. And so, if we will, as is men as women believe in Christ through that gift that God gives us, then we have access to all of those various benefits. We also have the truth about who man is as opposed to view of man as being a collection of molecules and nothing more than that. We are taught by scripture that man is both body and spirit. The word spirit also is equivalent to the word soul to the word heart to word mind, all those are used in scripture, and we know that we are both. We’re both mind and body. So when we think of mental illness we think of illness that has a mental, that has a spiritual, that has a soul dimension to it. And as such we need to think in terms of treating mental illness with something other than medications. We bring the scriptures to bear and as a believer you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you have the benefit of scripture. You can change in ways that will allow you to overcome the effects of sin in your life. One of those effects being mental illness. There’s also the truth about behavior. Scripture is very clear; the seat of behavior resides in our soul in our heart. That is the really the control center for our body. So even though we may suffer from mental illness, we are still culpable before God, we’re held before, God is being accountable for what we will do. Which is totally in contradiction to what the world would have us believe, which is that, is someone with a mental illness, you are not in control. So, these truths that scripture presents are all essential to a Biblical counsellor. We take advantage of all of those in our counseling of those who are believers.

Heath Lambert: That is so different than what just about anybody in the culture is thinking even those in the culture and a secular neuroscientist, they’re going to agree with your assessment. Many of them will about the nature of mental illness but to go in this direction of the scripture, the grace of Jesus, that is laid hold of by faith. That is just utterly revolutionary. And if someone were listening to this and they have almost as by osmosis just picked up this cultural view of mental illness and perhaps they are someone they love have been diagnosed with a mental illness and now they say this is so different than what I’ve been told and I don’t know what to do. What are some initial steps you would encourage that person to take in their own life or in the life of somebody that they love?

George Sanders: Well, I would certainly point them toward counselor an ACBC certified counselor would be a great place to start. Have yourself evaluated by a person who is certified, they’re going to go over the problem. They’re going to listen to your problem. They’re going to come alongside of you. They’re going to bring the truths of scripture to bear on the issue. And for anyone who has a significant mental issue, I think it’s also important that they be evaluated by a physician. There can certainly be input from the body in a mental illness. We need to make sure that there’s not something going on physically that could either explain or at least can is contributing to the mental problems that you’re having. But I think another thing that’s very important is that you be very careful about starting medication. Many physicians, who will see a person who say is depressed, we’ll just at the first visit instead of doing anything in terms of counseling or even inquiring as to what is the source of the issue but put you on medication. And medications in large part for antidepressant that antidepressant category are not only ineffective, but they have harmful side effects. So, I would be very careful to make a wise decision before I started medication.