Lately I’ve been thinking about how religion impacts how we view (and therefore treat) mental illness. I’ve heard a lot about Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s Darkness Is My Only Companion and finally had some time to read it.
There are plenty of books out there about first-hand accounts of mental illness, and I applaud the authors for their bravery and vulnerability in publishing their stories. Greene-McCreight’s book is different from others that I’ve read because of her background. She is an assistant priest at an Episcopalian church and a college instructor; her book is not a super-quick read but it’s extremely well-organized and concise. The book is broken into three parts: 1) her own experiences with major depression, bipolar disorder and post-partum depression; 2) the intersection of faith and mental illness; and 3) advice for those impacted by mental illness.
I’ve spoken with many Christians who experience significant mental health issues. In a way, introducing Christianity into the healing process is both a simplifying and complicating factor. On the one hand, it provides a framework to view the mental illness, allows for prayer as a healing strategy, and provides hope to Christian clients. On the other hand, it introduces some serious existential questions, such as Why does God allow this to happen? and What did I do to deserve this? and the corresponding emotions (such as guilt or intense anger at God). Christians suffering from mental illness are often “reassured” by well-meaning friends and family in a simplistic way (e.g., rely on prayer, repent of your sins, read your Bible more, etc.) but the complicating factors are often ignored. This results in the isolation of Christians suffering from mental illnesses.
So what can we do? Lots, fortunately. And Greene-McCreight has made an accessible list of suggestions and resources available in her book. Her recommendations are thoughtful and she acknowledges that they are not “one size fits all.” It’s a great resource for clergy, family, and friends to use when helping a Christian who is mentally ill.
Reference: Greene-McCreight, K. (2006). Darkness is my only companion: A Christian response to mental illness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.