I was sent Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission written by Amy Simpson from Inter Varsity Press for review. As always I am not required to give a positive endorsement but an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Summary From Inter Varsity Press:
“Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. It doesn’t reduce nicely to simple solutions and happy outcomes. So instead, too often we reduce people who are mentally ill to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist. They do exist, however—statistics suggest that one in four people suffer from some kind of mental illness. And then there’s their friends and family members, who bear their own scars and anxious thoughts, and who see no safe place to talk about the impact of mental illness on their lives and their loved ones. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. In Troubled Minds Amy Simpson, whose family knows the trauma and bewilderment of mental illness, reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ, and she shows us the path to loving them well and becoming a church that loves God with whole hearts and whole souls, with the strength we have and with minds that are whole as well as minds that are troubled.”
What I Liked:
I genuinely appreciated Troubled Minds – I’m glad it was sent to me, I’m glad I read it – it’s needed for the church. I read this book with the emotional backdrop of just losing a life-long friend to suicide who was suffering from a form of mental illness and of course, remembering the tragic death of Matthew Warren. So this book is needed for a number of us on a number of levels.
Second, Amy is an excellent writer, especially as the subject of mental illness is not really mainstream, is still a study in discovery and hardly accessible on the popular level. The book is not only needed but also needs to be available as an entry point for ministry types who often feel overwhelmed and unequipped to adequately serve the needs of those suffering with various mental illnesses.
Third, I truly sympathized with Amy sharing her family’s story in the early chapters. It was moving to read her experience growing up in her home as a pastor’s daughter and a mother struggling with schizophrenia. Her telling of the account of being a 15 year old dealing with her immobilized mother in the waiting room of the orthodontist’s office is powerful. Fifteen, overwhelmed, and receiving the fearful responses of the receptionists and the stares of the room must have been an awful and defining experience of her adolescence. And that was just the start of it.
Fourth, Amy writes in my language, meaning minimal to almost moderate clinical counseling verbiage, but very contextual to Christian ministry/church world. Again, the value of this book is that it’s an entry point, a catching up if you will, for those serving so many different types of people and to alert us to the needs of the mentally ill in our congregations (whom Amy will argue have been nearly ignored).
What I’m Pushing Back On:
It’s a double-edged sword as the strength of the book as Amy writes from such a personal perspective, she also writes from her pain. This is both powerful yet it is also clouded and for readers like me, it’s hard not to take personally to some extent. The easier thing for me to do as a reviewer or reader would be to take a more passive stance and skip this upcoming section all together but Amy wrote so personally, so I’d like to attempt to respond in kind.
In stating that people in church rush meals to families going through cancer treatments yet ignore those struggling with mental illness creates an unfair comparison and alienates those who would potentially be the first in line to help. I’m more convinced that people would be willing to help if they were invited to help and not shamed to.
I begin reading knowing full well I am unqualified to treat the mentally ill. That point is affirmed and stressed throughout. But then there is the frustration the church is not doing enough versus what can we really do since many of us are unqualified? Then there is the question of what does the author want the church to do and are all these expectations realistic in light of the many other things going on in so many people’s lives? To be sure, more can be done, but it’s been my experience that many are hurting and in need than we realize and the many serving (many who are hurting are also serving mind you) are doing so with their bandwidth almost at capacity. My point is not to get anyone off the hook but there is no conspiracy here. What’s more helpful is to alert others of this need and inspiring and invite them to help.
If Amy’s figures are correct and almost 1/4 of our congregations are suffering from some form of mental illness leaving us with 3/4 to serve others, we’re in trouble. Because we have been told that it’s more like 20%-30% (at very best) serving children, youth, worship arts, various leadership positions, etc and the many needed opportunities to serve beyond the walls of the church (I’d like to believe that more are serving in ways that are not quantified but that’s another story).
While we all know stories of church committees arguing over trivial tidbits and various “ministries” whom are extremely self-aborbed, most of those churches are on borrowed time. Most kingdom-minded communities are trying to balance it all and I suspect that many Christians are serving in very local and personal ways that are never recognized. Often this happens through friendship, the spirit of the extra-mile, and simple kindness. It’s also been my pastoral experience that many are supported in the natural friendships made in small groups (Granted this certainly is not nearly enough as not many churches have solid small group ministries and certainly, many who are suffering from mental illness who never step foot in a small group).
Further, when Amy’s friend is frustrated that no Christian mental health facility exists than can admit her child for short-term care, I find it frustrating because I feel it ignores the many Christians who are serving in various local health care facilities that may not be labeled as Christian. Worse, it also assumes that those who are not Christian can A. Not provide adequate care and B. Not be used as agents of God to provide care. I sympathize for the friend, grateful that help was found but I thought the statement was unnecessary.
In light of this, Chapters 3-5 come off a bit strong when considering the many needs in a particular local church a particular community and the many people who are serving. I know this is not Amy’s intention as she’s probably thinking she’s writing more to bring a “wake up call.” Again, some of this is due to her courageously writing out of her experience so her passion is understood. Yet, I feel there is a need to acknowledge there is no intention of ignoring an often misunderstood and often kept private need. There are those who are trying to balance, personally minister, and mobilize others to serve the many needs throughout the church and our world.
I fear this counter-critique comes across as defensive, but God be my witness, I just think the rhetoric needs to be toned a bit (as in many social justice books lately) because many people want to help, but they need to be alerted first and then invited. I know we all want to reach those who are not doing anything but it’s been my experience that not only do the apathetic not serve, many don’t read, many don’t listen and many in fact, are the very ones who are hurting. These are not the days to point the finger but rather the times to join hands.
Fortunately Chapter 8 is entitled “What the Church Can Do.” This chapter is in fact, very helpful, very natural, and though it would be a great deal of effort, I could see a church like ours doing many of things mentioned (as some of which has already been underway in one form or another). If the reader isn’t wearied from the preceding chapters, Amy’s thoughts and suggestions carry a lot of practical wisdom to be applied. To say it simply, I wished the tone in which this chapter was written was the voice of the book.
All this said, I’m grateful for the book, especially its passion. I’m glad I read it, and the tension I’m complaining about probably helps me better explore the problem and potential solutions.
Who I Think It’s For:
I highly encourage ministry leaders/pastors to pick up a copy. Even for those who do not perform much counseling, all pastors deal with hurting people and whether they realize it or not, many are suffering from mental illness which is very much Amy’s point. I found I was very much in need to read these words.
The second audience I’d like to suggest reading this are the committed lay-leaders found in many local churches. Thought hey may be few, they are valuable as I feel some will find a natural affinity for Amy’s message here and if the church is to make strides in serving individuals and their families, lay-leaders will be very necessary.
And third, I’d like to see trained counselors who are in the church to read and consider finding ways to serve local churches. I loved the idea of a trained psychologist leading a church class on understanding the basic principles of mental illness. I loved the idea of creating a support group similar to Celebrate Recovery (which I understand serves in this way, this resource might convince you that CR is not enough in a church context to serve in these specific needs).
Bottom line – Troubled Minds is a needed resource that serves as an excellent entry point for the church to serve those struggling with mental illness. I hope many in the church read it.