The last taboo of the Christian Church

By Guest Blogger Rachael Keefe

It’s time we talk about the last taboo of the Christian church. It doesn’t matter what denomination or stripe of Christianity you claim, there’s one topic we are all quite uncomfortable talking about. And it made the headlines of this week’s news. I’m not talking about gun control even though that is definitely a conversation worth having. No, I’m referring to mental illness. We need to talk about this or Jeremiah’s lament is going to continue to echo through the end of this millennium and into the next.

The heart of God breaks when innocents die violent deaths and we do nothing to prevent it from happening again. I do not doubt that God hurts for the poor people of God. By why is no one really looking for the balm in Gilead that will restore the health of the people? Sure, call your politicians and tell them how you feel about gun control, but don’t forget to call them to task for not attending to the despicable state of our mental health care system.

Mental illness is a disease, whatever the particular diagnosis. We are not ashamed to talk about heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Why are we ashamed to talk about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or personality disorders? These are diseases that affect many people. No one asks to have them. They are not punishment for sins. Mental illness is not caused by demons, though it is certainly evil. Prayer will potentially bring healing but it is not a cure for any disease excepting those rare moments when a miracle happens.

So, I repeat: Mental illnesses are diseases, disorders of the brain. They have medical treatments that are often very effective when combined with other types of therapy. A faith community can be a vital support for those who live with mental illness.

The most recent mass shooting in Washington, D.C. happened because Aaron Alexis slipped through the cracks in the mental health system. This should not happen, ever. Not for someone like Aaron who had a history of gun violence nor anyone else who is experiencing a mental health crisis. This has to change. Lives are being lost at an alarming rate.

I truly believe that the heart of God breaks and Christ weeps over these innocents. We can do better than this. We can push for legislation that expands care for people experiencing a mental health crisis and the aftercare. If you don’t know what mental illness looks like or what the indications of a crisis are, find out. Mostly, though, Christians can find ways to welcome people who live with mental illness into our church communities. We can pray for the one who is suicidal, the one who is psychotic, the one who is depressed, the one who is manic and all those trying to navigate the world with an illness that can sometimes complicate and confuse simple things.

On the whole, we have not been faithful when it comes to mental illnesses. We have turned away or blamed the person living with the illness. It’s time for the faithful to step up to the proverbial plate and care for our neighbors who cannot care for themselves.

There is a balm in Gilead. It’s you and me advocating for justice and loving those society deems unlovable. To paraphrase, Gandhi – if we want the world to change, then we must be that change.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.

Rachael Keefe

Ordained in the United Church of Christ since 1992. Currently, chaplain at a state psychiatric hospital.

This blog was originally published at Write Out of Left Field

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.

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