Authored by John Ting

A Gentle Touch heeds and echoes the call for the Church to break their silence on mental illnesses. Offering valuable insight, the book provides a hardly heard voice to individuals with mental illnesses to share their perspectives to the Church. The Church has for a long time approached mental illnesses with an over-emphasis on spirituality. A Gentle Touch acknowledges the multi-dimensional (biological, psychological and social) aspects of mental illnesses, and introduces readers to a more holistic approach to understanding mental illnesses.

In each chapter that addresses a single category of mental illness, Ting brings up nuanced issues specific to the category. For example, occult practices are discussed in the chapter on psychosis, whereas discouragement and exhaustion in ministry are highlighted in the chapter on mood disorders. Additionally, individuals who suffer from mental illnesses share sobering thoughts on their interactions with the Church, urging readers to reflect on times when we may have been insensitive when handling the topic of mental health. Having himself experienced clinical depression, Ting poignantly puts this across: “Then there are those who are quick to tell a depressed person to snap out of it. However, if this is all that is needed for me to get out of my depression don’t you think I would have done so? Do I want to remain and wallow in my depression? Depression is an unwanted illness. It is debilitating for it affects a person mentally, emotionally and bodily.” The pain evident in the experiences that Ting and other contributors write about sends an urgent call to the Church to give greater care towards understanding our fellow brothers and sisters who struggle with mental health issues. Do we as the Church bother to understand an individual through their experience of mental illness? Or are we overly focused on “treating” their symptoms and therefore overlook the real experiences of these individuals?

Overall, A Gentle Touch is a quick and easy read, and serves as a useful introduction to get the Church thinking and talking about mental health and its role in cultivating mental wellness. The book assumes that readers have a basic understanding of the common mental illnesses, and presents different considerations for approaching mental illnesses. At the start of the book, Ting mentions a “biblical framework” for (mental) health but does not expound on it, leaving the question of how “mental health versus dysfunction” should be defined throughout the book. Additionally, Ting focuses only on particular mental illnesses, despite the chapters being given broader categorical names. For example, the chapter on mood disorders exclusively discusses Major Depressive Disorder (or Clinical Depression), despite, for instance, Bipolar Disorder being in the same category. Certainly, the book may have wished to focus on the more common mental illnesses, but caution must be taken to avoid overgeneralising across mental illnesses.

On top of presenting a spiritual perspective to mental illnesses, A Gentle Touch makes a rousing call to Christian communities to be better equipped to support individuals with mental illnesses. A contributor in the book candidly admits, “[t]here is so much stigma attached to [depression] in a place like Singapore that I would think a hundred times before sharing the problem with fellow Christians. […] I am unable to share the blessings that I have experienced from God in coping with the illness or to ask for prayer in my struggles with my illness”. With one in seven Singaporeans found to have a mental illness in their lifetime, we as the Church need to resolve to build communities where individuals with mental illnesses feel that they can be accepted and supported.

You can view a sample of A Gentle Touch here.

This review is written by Christabel Yip, a recent Psychology graduate. She is passionate about promoting mental health awareness, hiking, and finding the best black sesame ice-cream in Singapore.