There has been a lot of discussion about Mental illness since the 04-16-07 Virginia Tech shootings. So much so in Virginia that the House and Senate Legislature unanimously passed a series of mental health reforms, which Governor Kaine recently signed into Virginia law. Nearly $42 million was budgeted to implement these mental health reforms! Will these reforms and all this additional money really help fill the cracks exposed in the mental health system? Mental Health is an important subject and the VT Tragedy exposes some of the weaknesses of the current system (I know many of these weaknesses experientially, as I was involuntarily caught up in the system after the VT Tragedy).
One question that I have thought much about is what exactly is mental illness? Who determines when one is mentally ill? This is not an exact science. In fact, while they can test levels of chemicals in the blood, they cannot yet test chemical levels in the brain. To say that one is chemically imbalanced in their mind is supposition, largely based on behavior. When you have a sudden change of emotion, certain chemicals in the body are released, which make your body chemicals imbalanced from their norm. Women go through particular hormonal cycles each month and the chemicals in their body are different at times from what is even “normal” for them. Children and teenagers certainly are affected by hormonal changes and a range of variance in chemicals as they grow toward maturity and adulthood. Not much is really understood about how these chemical changes seen in the blood actually affect the chemical levels in the brain.
Going back to the question of how to define “mental illness,” might one say that to think improperly is to think in a sick way? What if a person thinks in an “improper” way for any length of time? In fact, how do we even know what is the “right way” to think? How many times have you heard someone say, “You’re crazy!”? This is a common response when someone offers a thought that is different from what is understood by the group or accepted by others. Is not this like saying that someone is “mentally ill?”
Now with this perspective, when a professional psychologist or psychiatrist disagrees with a person’s thinking, might they then go on to say “they are mentally ill?” Should their opinion be accepted because they have this professional position? I can speak to this directly. I was said to be mentally ill and labeled, “psychotic” (among other things), then legally forced to take “anti-psychotic” drugs (with many potentially severe known side-effects). This was despite a rationality and consistency in what I said and with many nurses saying that my behavior was “completely appropriate.” The diagnosis given to me was largely based on my religious speaking. Many who are struggling mentally do say religious things (often clearly out of touch with reality). I was not doing this, though I was expressing religious truth from Scripture. Thankfully, I do have a copy of the medical records that show all I am saying to be true. I also have a personal journal from this time.
From a biblical perspective, we all have a problem with improper thinking. The mind is even effected by sin (theologically, this is called the “noetic” effect of sin). From my Christian perspective, the only way we can think properly is to think biblically. We must think the way the Bible plainly and systematically teaches us to think. This means our thinking would be consistent and correspond to the reality of God’s Creation. Consider Philippians 4:8. This is true “free-thinking!”
Be warned, reader. When you think this way, many will call you crazy!