Mental Health & the Gospel Community is an insightful, well-curated collection of stories of people who struggle with mental illnesses. It gives readers an honest behind-the-scenes look into the painful affliction of and experiences with mental illness, through the lenses of people from different socioeconomic strata in our local community. It fosters awareness of the mental ill in our mist, encourages empathy and kills judgement and assumptions that our church and culture have of mental illnesses.
The book is sectioned into three parts. The first part gives a voice to the experiences of the mentally wounded. The second details the tumultuous journeys of the caregivers who walk with the mentally ill. The last part features personal reflections of pastors and church leaders about mental health issues and the church.
There is an inherent “messy” structure of each personal account with intertwining details of personal-life narratives, reflections, perspectives, biblical truths and practical wisdom.
What is valuable is that the authors share their knowledge plainly from personal encounters, with none claiming to be the “gold standard” for defining and approaching mental health issues. Through the myriad accounts, we can identify a pattern of what is helpful and what is not in understanding and walking with the mentally ill. We can gain perspectives on how the mentally ill and their caregivers remain steadfast in their faith and encounter God through the course of their experiences.
A written reflection is included at the end of each part of the book which helps to consolidate key ideas raised across the different personal accounts. Despite having these reflection pieces, learning and gleaning from the book about walking with the mentally ill is still not a straight-forward process. Readers will be required to wrestle with the various perspectives and the complexity of the matter at hand. The book does not offer step-by-step guidelines in understanding the mentally ill and will not stand being approached as a Christian help manual for mental illness. Rather, it would be best purposed as a springboard for reflection and consideration on how the church can better fulfil her call to be a community of hope and refuge to the mentally ill. It also empowers and encourages people with mental illness to see that their experiences can become a source of ministry to others.
I picked up this book wanting to glean deeper perspectives on how mental health and the Christian faith intersects and to grow as a helper to the mentally ill. I was not disappointed. I appreciate that the book speaks about mental illness as the part of “the complex fallenness of all of creation”. It asserts that, as a church, “we must not rush into simple diagnoses” but rather be mindful to grow in knowing and loving people with mental illnesses. Crucial questions about the role of medication, prayer, therapy, caregivers, church community and pastoral leaders in mental health are widely discussed all over the book. These perspectives are helpful to build frameworks for approaching mental illness on a personal level and in the church community.
You can view a sample of Mental Health & The Gospel Community here.