by Amy Simpson
Foreword by Marshall Shelley
Amy Simpson, editor of GiftedForLeadership.com and managing editor of marriage and parenting resources for Today’s Christian Woman, brings to readers an insightful yet infuriating look at mental illness and the church’s role in helping those living with mental illness. Her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, is ripe with personal—albeit secondhand—experience with mental illness, as well as venom for not only the way the church treats the mentally ill, but also how society stigmatizes those living with mental illness.
This book brings the reader closer to understanding mental illness and how those who live with mental illness can at times suffer greatly in silence, yet it leaves the reader so hopeless that the church and society at large can actually relate to, work with, or assist those living with mental illness that merely finishing the book is in itself an accomplishment.
Simpson tells an engaging story of her mother’s journey through schizophrenia, one that many who live with mental illness likely will relate to. The story of her mother’s battle with schizophrenia is wrought, though, with anger toward the church for failing to come to her mother’s rescue. What the author does not let the reader know, though, is that most church officials at the time of her mother’s illness were not trained to assist people with mental illness. Church officials, like most people, do not have academic or professional backgrounds in mental illness and thus are not fully qualified to assist the mentally ill. Perhaps the best church officials could do at the time her mother’s illness was diagnosed was to lend an ear and offer assistance with activities of daily living.
Much of this book laments the church’s uselessness in assisting those living with mental illness. The author repeatedly chastises church officials and Christians for not knowing how to deal with the mentally ill, perhaps at a time when mental illness was less understood. Advances in neuroscience since the onset of her mother’s illness have made an enormous difference in the way the mentally ill are treated by the helping professions, as well as by much of society. Mental illness is better understood today than it was when the author’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, yet the author barely seems to recognize this.
Although Simpson does manage to elicit some empathy for those living with mental illness, she does little to offer any hope that the church can assist those with diagnosable illnesses. Indeed, the first seven chapters of the book leave the reader wondering if the church can do anything but reject those living with mental illness as demonically possessed or unrepentant in sin. By the time the author does offer hope that the church may be able to assist those with mental illness, the reader is exhausted.
Churches and church officials are not Simpson’s only targets. Indeed, she criticizes Christians altogether in their misunderstanding and rejection of the mentally ill. Yet, at the same time, she encourages these same people to try to better understand mental illness by offering a brief description of several classes of mental illness. In Chapter 2, Simpson paraphrases the incredibly technical Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and offers the reader information about mood disorders, anxiety, and psychosis. What she fails to mention is that the DSM is not a volume to be used by laypeople. Understanding and use of this technical book generally is done by healthcare and social service professionals who have had ample training to make diagnoses. The DSM is not a book for laypeople, and should not be used by the general public to make diagnoses or even to understand diagnoses.
Simpson offers compelling reasons why the church, Christians, and society in general should work harder to better understand mental illness. Mental illness is on the rise. In fact, one in four people suffers (her word, not mine) from some kind of mental illness. Almost 12 million people in the United States have a serious or chronic mental illness. Antipsychotics are the top-selling class of drugs in the United States. Simpson’s reasons for presenting this information are important, and heartfelt. After all, she was witness to her mother’s psychosis. She makes it painfully clear that those living with mental illness are not alone, that their families and friends live with the illness as well. And that is true.
However, the venom in this author’s voice is more than just disheartening. It leaves the reader so tired and hopeless that turning the next page is a victory. This is not an easy read. It is disturbing and angry. Simpson does offer hope in the form of suggestions at the end of it, but that hope may come too late for some readers.
InterVarsity Press/IVP Press
$16, 221 pages, paperback
—Reviewed by Karri E. Christiansen