August 17, 2011

The Stigma of Mental Illness and Its Treatment in the Context of a Christian Belief System

The Stigma of Mental Illness and its Treatment
in the Context of a Christian Belief System

BY JILL CARLSON                                                                                                       [Main Story]

Mental illness has long filled people with uneasiness and discomfort—both those who are suffering and people close to the suffering individual. The mind is composed of cognitive (thinking), emotional, and spiritual aspects that combine together to make us unique individuals with various talents and abilities. When any aspect of our mind does not function properly, it affects individual perception of the world and the ability to function.

Mental illness is caused by multiple contributing factors occurring together, such as heredity, environmental stressors, unhealthy lifestyle (unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, sleep deprivation, alcohol use, and illicit drug use), and other unknown causes.

Spiritual deficiency or lack of relationship with God is not a cause of mental illness, as some people have surmised. It is a biologically based illness, with neurochemical deficiencies and structural changes, which become more prominent when treatment is delayed. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness minimizes functional impairment and improves response to treatment and long-term ability to achieve and remain in remission.

Indicators of the need for immediate professional intervention and treatment are anything that impacts the individual’s safety or the safety of those around them, for example: preoccupation with death, suicidal statements, violence, or death threats toward others. It is critical to never “brush off” these red-flag behaviors and statements. They are cries for help, and you may be the only person who can initiate an intervention and prevent a tragedy.

The mind/body connection is intimate, and anything that promotes the health of the body improves the resilience of the mind. What is optimum treatment for mental illness? A whole-person approach addresses the person’s emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Proven therapeutic approaches that teach individuals to short-circuit unhealthy thinking patterns and improve coping mechanisms are beneficial in optimizing emotional health. Ellen G. White gives the prescription for health in The Ministry of Healing, page 127: “Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power—these are the true remedies.”

Jill Carlson received her M.D. from Loma Linda University School of Medicine, completed psychiatry residency and child and adolescent fellowship at Johns Hopkins, and currently treats patients in her private practice in Columbia, Maryland.