Troubled Families: Support For Loved Ones Affected By Mental Illness | Amy Simpson, MBA


I come from a family that was tremendously
effected by mental illness. My mom suffers from schizophrenia and she wasn’t actually
diagnosed with that until later in life than people typically are diagnosed with schizophrenia,
but she suffered the effects of schizophrenia much earlier, actually even since from before
I was born. So, I grew up in the shadow of mental illness. I grew up with this part of
my family’s life and it’s very much a part of my personal journey, even though it’s not
actually my illness. So as someone who knows what it’s like to love and live with someone
who has mental illness and who has seen the very serious disruption that mental illness
can create in a person’s life, this is an area of serious passion for me. I’m also somebody
who loves the church and the church’s mission, and that’s also an area of serious passion.
So when I see mental illness and the church sort of coexisting in my mind, I see the church
doing, really living out the church’s mission in regard to mental illness. I don’t think
that you can separate the mission of the church from the idea of reaching out to hurting people,
and people with mental illness are some of the most hurting, and needy, and marginalized
people in our society. Helping people with mental illness is not just a nice thing to
do. It’s not just the kind of thing that will make us popular, or help us have a good image
among people who really like to see the church doing good in this world. Helping people with
mental illness is an integral part of the church’s mission and calling.
Many people don’t realize that our mental health care system, in many ways, is broken.
It’s fragmented, it’s very hard for people sometimes to access care, and we place, because
of the way our health system in general works, we place the burden of care for mental health
on people who have mental health care issues, and for some of them that works okay, but
for some people who have especially serious mental illness, they’re not always capable
of managing their health care, their mental health care, in a way that really works and
helps to keep them healthy, so there’s a tremendous burden on all of us to … deal with the effects
of that, to deal with the impact of that. Part of the reason that our mental health
care system is so difficult to navigate and to receive good care from is because back
in the 1960’s, 1950’s, we had this massive de-institutionalization of mental health care,
and this meant that hundreds of thousands of people were discharged from state mental
hospitals and sent back into the communities. Now there were many reasons for this de-institutionalization
program, many motivations including budget related concerns, but one of those motivations
was actually compassion. There were people who just figured there had to be a better
solution than just locking hundreds of thousands of people away for the rest of their lives,
and they were right. There is a better solution, but part of that, really that better solution
that they had in mind at that time was community based health care, was that local communities
would step forth and provide the resources and the structure that people with mental
illness would need to help them get the care they needed and live productive lives with
mental illness. Unfortunately, in most cases, that just didn’t happen. So all these people
were sent back into their communities, and found themselves living in communities that
weren’t prepared to receive them, that didn’t actually want them there in many cases, and
that didn’t have the resources they needed to live healthy lives. So we have a lot of
social problems that result from that lack of local community based help.
The reason I talk about this is because I like for the church to understand how we’re
positioned. The church is a community based organization; we’re located in communities
all over the United States, all over the world. We’re right there, we know people; these are
our friends and neighbors who need our help and the church is very well positioned to
meet this need, not only the practical needs of people, but also the spiritual needs of
people, the relational needs of people. Some of the things that people with mental illness
most need are spiritual care, loving friendships, and community, and the church can provide
all of those things. So we are very well positioned to provide what people with mental illness
need. We’re very well positioned to meet the needs of our communities, and as the church,
we are called to do this. We cannot live out the mission and calling that God has given
us as the church on this Earth and simultaneously ignore 26% of the population, both within
and outside of our churches.

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