We are thankful that there are physicians who have expertise in medication. But we do know that there are spiritual realities at the heart of all misery. Suffering is an occasion to reconsider the love of God, the sufferings of Jesus, the presence of the Spirit, and so many other attractive truths that bring comfort and hope. So we will look for a way into Scripture.
I was working in a hospital and doing a rotation through the psychiatric wing. When I arrived, I was greeted by an affable young man whom I had met at church. I thought he was an aid until he said that he was a patient and this was his fourth admission. Meanwhile, a nurse had seen us talking, and when he and I had finished our conversation, she asked if I knew him.
“Yes, we attend the same church.”
“Oh, we just love him. We think everyone here should go to that church. I don’t know what they do, but at least three of our patients have improved so much after going there.”
The church we attended was relatively small (maybe one hundred attenders), on the youngish side (a number of recently married people), and with no mental-health professionals that I knew of. It seemed ordinary. And yet the help this church gave its psychiatric patients had stood out to the staff.
As I have reflected on that church and others like it, I’ve identified six principles that guided their care for those with complicated troubles — troubles that would be identified as psychiatric. These include depression, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, anorexia, and other disorders that are commonly treated with medication. I am assuming that the person is already under the care of a psychiatrist.
Be patient and kind with everyone.
This principle is obvious but not easy (1 Corinthians 13:4). We might do well with those who are like us, but we are slow to be patient with those we don’t understand. Patience and kindness are not scared away by eccentricities, differences, or complicated problems.
If someone is off-putting or disruptive, we don’t overreact; intense reactions are among the worst steps we can take. Instead, we might simply ask, “Is everything okay? It seems like something is on your mind.” The first-time loner gets an invitation to lunch. Kindness includes others and assimilates them in the larger family of the church, where peculiarities abound.
Don’t let medication scare you away.
When others are courageous enough to mention that they take psychiatric medication, church members tend to withdraw. This, we think, is for the professionals, and it would be unwise to get involved. Yet when someone takes psychiatric medication, it means that something hurts and life can feel overwhelming. It means that the person has known suffering, and that is a reason to come close.