Mission Failure?

CBR_Logo2Troubled Minds:
Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

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 personalalbeit secondhandexperience 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.

Troubled Minds #4304This 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.

Two-Star Review

InterVarsity Press/IVP Press
May 2013
$16, 221 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4304-6

—Reviewed by Karri E. Christiansen

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2 Comments

Filed under nonfiction

2 responses to “Mission Failure?

  1. Lyn

    I have read this book and can’t believe that this review describes the author as venomous. I have found this book to bring hope to the church! A must read for any person that encounters mental illness within a Christian context. This review is baffling?!? Here is a video of Simpson addressing this topic. Does she sound remotely venomous? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tVe83WywxY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  2. I’m discouraged to see that this reviewer felt my book was laced with anger and lacked hope. Not my intention, mindset, or emotional reality at all. I’m sad to think that people will be left feeling hopeless or helpless after reading this book. I hope such a reaction will not be widespread. But of course I won’t argue with her opinion.

    I do feel it necessary, though, to defend the accusation that I misused the DSM. I did not “paraphrase” the DSM nor use it in any way except by illustration, nor did I encourage other nonprofessionals to use it (or any other resource) to diagnose others. I referred to the DSM as an illustration of the very thing this reviewer points out: the complexity of diagnosis and classification. At the top of Page 38, I clearly stated that I based my summary information on broad categories of mental illness as presented by the National Institute of Mental Health. This information is designed for laypeople and openly distributed on the NIMH website for general education. Also, I worked closely with a mental health professional in developing the descriptions and examples of various categories of mental illness.

    Amy Simpson

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