ILLNESS Is Not A Choice

Rhetorical question fueled by frustration:

Why do we as a society condemn mental illness?

Mental or emotional illness is no more a choice than a broken leg.

When someone routinely acts strangely by clinging, gasping for attention, or being overly dramatic, we often jump to judge and condemn them, whether that judgement is voiced or not, and then we avoid them like they have the plague.

You cannot just tell a person with a broken leg to get up and walk normally. So why do we expect people suffering from mental illness to act normally?

I have done it. Often, after a period of severe depression, I look back and condemn myself for succumbing to it. I should have been stronger. We’ve been here before, I should be smarter than that.

BUT – the truth is that mental and emotional illness can be extremely powerful. And when coupled with physiological factors such as in alcoholism or drug addiction, it can be completely overwhelming and incapacitating. And since there is normally a huge cloud of shame associated with mental disorders, people try to hide it. So they can be walking around trying to function in society, appearing physically “normal” on the outside, while a ferocious war rages inside.

Everyone who has been severely depressed knows – during that time of debilitating depression, you CAN NOT THINK CLEARLY. Can I get an amen?

Of course there are examples where a person just needs to grow up. But even that case begs the question – Why have they not already grown up?

  • Maybe they did not have proper instruction from the parental figures in their life.
  • Maybe something traumatic devastated them.
  • Maybe they just need more time. 

Parenting is arguably the most difficult job there is, and experiences during the developmental years have a powerful influence on the rest of a child’s life. Trauma has a much greater impact on a child than it does on a healthy adult.

It is a safe bet that there are adults walking around today that were not properly nurtured in childhood because their parents either lacked the necessary skills or simply were not relationally available, possibly because of their own issues or how they were raised.

Obviously, it is not good to encourage unhealthy behavior. We need to be mindful of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. And some people are simply not ready to even recognize their own internal wounds, let alone tend to them. They may well be carrying around heavy baggage that they are not consciously aware of.

But there are things we can do:

  • We can recognize the distinction between a person and their actions.
  • We can continue to respect the person without encouraging unhealthy behavior.
  • We can suggest they get proper help and support.

One specific issue that in on my heart is adult victims of child abuse. Often they suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and a host of related issues including a fundamental inability to bond with others.

Child abuse can literally stop the emotional growth of that child and impair their ability to function. And just as physical wound does not heal without proper medical attention, a victim of child abuse may not even begin to recover until they are in a safe environment where trust can begin to be reestablished. Even then, it can take years to heal and learn the bonding and relating skills that were never developed.

So, I implore you – before you condemn that person for their strange behavior, take a moment to consider that they might not be capable of acting the way you think they should.

  • They might have been severely damaged and never received the proper help.
  • They might have never been taught social and relating skills.
  • They might have a chemical imbalance or neurological problem that is prohibiting normal cognitive function.
  • They might never have been loved.

Instead of judging, maybe try offering a word of encouragement. Even if you feel unqualified to help, you may be one part of a safe environment that God is trying to provide for that person. Even if they do not respond immediately, you may be sowing seed.

And the neat thing is, if you show compassion, you will be blessed knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life. Instead of fueling the problem, let’s work together to be part of the solution.

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6 Responses to ILLNESS Is Not A Choice

  1. Sharon says:

    Amen! I agree with you wholeheartedly. And to parallel that: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wondered why we can have such compassion for people who’ve had heart-attacks, or who have cancer, or have been riveted by some other sort of fatalistic illness…….. and we’ll put them on our prayer list, we’ll beg other people, too, for their prayers……. And yet, we have less compassion for the sin-sick, for the one caught in an addictive disease, for the rebellious, for the one seeped in sin., for the one that’s so haunted they’re mean. If they don’t well-up in the time limit we give them, then we turn disgusted and leave them alone in their pit to bleed. If we don’t continue to help them and pray for them while still in their sin, what hope to they have to get well all by themselves? Why will we pray more for the already well in Jesus who’s already promised a Heavenly Home, than we will for the one eaten up with sin-sickness who’s doomed an eternal death in a fiery hell?

    Thanks for posting what you did, it’s raised the ire in me again to be more intentional for those that most need it!

  2. Kate says:

    🙂 Agree. 🙂

  3. ulcardsfan says:

    GREAT post Michelle. My daughter had students at her “Christian” college tell her that if she prayed harder she wouldn’t be depressed. As an RN, I know that mental health is just like physical health. I told Brittany that if she broke her arm we would go to a doctor, just as we would seek medical help for depression. Thanks for writing about this. Love, Linda

  4. teributcher says:

    This is such a great post Michele! I appreciate how well you articulated something I’ve though about so often. I have to confess, while I’ve been studying how to help people, I sometimes STILL don’t always do the right thing when it comes to how people act. I have a long way to go in this department, but this post brought a healthy conviction to my heart. 🙂

  5. Couldn’t agree with you more Michele. We live and breath mental illness in our house every day with one of the kids. Life would be so much calmer without her in our lives, but it would never be as exciting or loving or full of emotion. We see the person behind the illness, just as you have asked others to do. It’s not easy, I look at a person who’s clearly talking to themselves and moves a few steps sideways. It’s a hard thing to do, but we can do it and posts like this help bring the truth to the world.
    Great job.

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