Recently, a few NBA superstars went public about their battles with mental health—namely, Toronto Raptor’s Demar DeRozan, Cleveland Cavalier’s Kevin Love, and Washington Wizard’s Kelly Oubre Jr.
Good for them.
And good for us.
Mental illness continues to carry a stigma. A broken bone is proof of injury, but with mental illness, an x-ray proves nothing. Diabetes is a blood disorder, but with a mental disorder, bloodwork proves nothing.
There’s also the stigma that those who suffer from mental illness are irrational, crazy, and dangerous. We’ve seen this escalate with President Donald Trump. Regardless of President Trump’s mental health, it’s the association with his bizarre and sometimes brutal behavior and language that labels those with mental illness as “dangerous.”
No one nailed this better than Piper Gourley, in her piece “Why Calling Donald Trump ‘Mentally Ill’ is dangerous.” She writes:
Those of you calling Trump the same stigmatizing phrases over and over again are not only wrong but hurtful. You are hurting those of us who spend each day hiding our damage with the fear we will be seen as dangerous as the most prominent point of misguided, stigmatized focus if we come forward. Mental health awareness is not a topic that deserves to be dedicated to Trump, claiming his “danger” as a president. Mental health must be assigned to the whole of our humanity — advocacy for those who have overcome, those who struggle with their mental health every day, and those who are fighting for recovery.
Discussion about mental health needs to not be about increasing separation, but breaking stigma; not about potential “danger,” but about the effects of support, therapy and proper treatment. Mental health awareness does not and should not belong to Trump. This awareness, and reframing it in a more positive light, must belong to the millions of us who struggle in silence: a silence that must now be broken to survive.
I’m a dad of four and a pastor. I’ve been open about my mental illness since 2016. My kids are at the age now they understand mental illness.
I have fears about the stigmatic messages they might receive from various outlets about people with mental illness. Then as a result, what they’ll think of me.
In addition, I’m concerned about how parents of their friends in our community might perceive me. When I go to my kids’ ballgames, I wonder if parents are aware of my condition since I’ve have written and interviewed about my battle.
Frankly, I hope they’ve not seen or heard my story. My concern isn’t for me, but for my kids and how they’ll be perceived.
On another note, the Christian community is waking up, thank God. But the stigma remains.
Sadly, some Christian leaders went public implying that devotion to God should overcome depression. A recent tweet from one of my favorite ministries stated:
“We will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God.”
Pastor John Hagee, the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, Texas, tweeted:
“Depression is a result of spiritual starvation. Overcome depression and emotional hardships by immersing yourself in God’s Word.”
Those comments are like saying, “Overcome your broken bones and diabetes by faith and devotion to God.”
If it only was that easy. I would give anything if God zapped away my mental illness with meditation, prayer, and Scripture.
But it’s more complex than that.
Recently, I shared with a depressed Christian young man, “This is our deal—mental illness. We can’t enjoy life and certain pleasures like most can. We have to be disciplined and resolute. We have to see a psychiatrist. We have to take medication. We have to go to therapy. We have to get a lot of sleep. We have to watch our diet. We have to exercise. We have to commit to a supportive community. And yes, we must cling to God by faith through prayer and His Word.”
If you struggle with mental illness, I encourage you to do the same.
If you have a loved one who struggles with mental illness, I have much to say on that too. I wrote an eBook about it: 10 Ways to Support a Loved One with Mental Illness. It’s free to you by subscribing to my blog.
As someone who has loved basketball his entire life, and because my kids love basketball and carry my DNA, I’m beyond grateful for DeRozan, Love, and Oubre Jr. sharing their struggles. They’ve reminded us there’s much more to life than basketball superstardom. And that wealth, fame, and sports acclaim are no match for mental illness.
To my brothers and sisters who struggle with mental illness, you are not alone. Get help. Work on your overall health. Yes indeed, pray, read God’s Word, and connect with a community of friends for support. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit. Press on. Brighter days are ahead. I promise.
For the rest, welcome those in the mental war to break their silence. Show them by your love, support, words, and behavior that they are not crazy or dangerous.
We are all in this thing together.
* This post has been updated since it’s orginal posting.
Thank you for sharing this. Keep writing. (I mean but don’t stop preaching either!!). I think the Lord could possibly allow this thorn in order to have leaders who are living *well* alongside this disease. I haven’t come to terms with mine just yet. But I am close. Hearing this from someone like you is beyond encouraging. Hope isn’t lost for me to be a useful vessel in my own sphere. I miss Grace Washingtonville more than I would like to admit. Thank you for sharing. Keep sharing.
Thank you, Leigh!
Thank you for this timely piece on mental health. As a family, we’ve been dealing and supporting our daughter with a condition similar to yours. I’ve read your earlier blog and have put a lot of it into practice in our home. She has been steady with Christian counseling and taking her meds consistently. We have all seen a positive change in her behavior, self esteem and since gone back to work. She has been praying and seeking God in a passionate way that has inspired everyone around her. It’s messages like this one that share the truth about conditions that affect all of us but no one wants to discuss them. I applaud you for your candor by sharing your heart with those you love. The world needs more of this.
Dan, thank you so much for your encouragement. I am thrilled and grateful your daughter has found help and is thriving spiritually and otherwise. Thank you again!
My heart aches for you and any one else suffering. I respect Dr. Hagee also, but that was brutal and very unbiblical. What if the apostle Paul’s thorn was mental illness? “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of ANY kind….” God makes no mistakes. Each of us face trials which should help us identify with our Savior and draw us closer to Him. In addition, we each can be equipped to relate to our fellow man, encouraging, supporting, and sharing Jesus, our suffering Savior! As always, thanks for continuing to share your life with us broken kindred spirits!!!
Thank you, Phyllis!
Thank you for this word! I have come off Facebook due to some posts that just really set me off and often feel isolated. I’m seeing a wonderful counselor and making progress. I go to sleep at night with my earphones and worship music. Still have a hard time getting out but I know God is with me and surrounding me. Always enjoy your word!!
Thank you, Jan. I think it is a great and healthy move to limit or refrain from social media for a season or longer. It’s wonderful you are seeing a great counselor and making progress. You are a fighter! Victory will come. Press on, sister!
I apologize for this “addendum”( forgot to include the most relatable part). Mental illness runs in my DNA. An uncle endured shock therapy, a cousin in a mental institution, and sadly more. I don’t know if that had anything to do with my majoring in psychology, etc, but the fear of it is as terrifying as cancer! I pray and hope as you do that society accepts and respects its reality and removes the stigma. But for the grace of God…
Agreed! Thank you!
We should always talk about mental illness and educate society. Just as someone can have diabetes, mental illness is a medical condition and can be successfully treated and managed with the proper medical help and the power of God. I have my Masters in a Mental Health counseling from a clinically Christian based program so I understand the medical, biological side. In addition I know how it feels to experience anxiety. The stigma that society has always placed on mental illness from the beginning of time is a lie from the adversary. There are plenty of people who have mental illness and are successfully functioning as peaceful, flourishing members in society but no one sheds the light on this positive side of mental illness. Pastor Jarrod you are a success story of what God has done in your life! Your story has help many, many people! God is using your story to help others in need. The Lord is not a respector of persons. The way the Lord has helped you He will help others. Your story is a story of hope of the power of Jesus Christ for others that do not yet know the Lord’s strength and power! You are one of the success stories of what God has done in your life praise Jesus!!“ You have spread the good news!!
You have encouraged me to no end. Thank you for your kind words. I’m thrilled that God has given me resources for health and help, and especially His Spirit. Grateful you’ve given your life to serve those with mental illness, while also being a voice for the voiceless, and a champion of breaking the stigma. Thank you, again!
Thank you for this post.