Does God Care About the Mentally Ill?
FLORENCE was an attractive young woman. She had just begun an exciting career as a fashion model when suddenly she was struck by a mental illness. She became deeply depressed and shut herself up in her parents’ home. Having lost her zest for life, she totally ignored her appearance. Finally, she planned to commit suicide.
Florence is not alone. Similar tragedies affect people all over the world. In fact, mental disorder is one of the most common maladies today. How does God feel about the mentally sick? Does he really care about them?
Some are apt to believe that God deals only with persons considered mentally normal. Some even think that mental illness is a form of direct punishment from God. But is God to blame? What really is the cause of mental illness?
The Basic Cause
In the past it was commonly believed that almost all mental disorders had supernatural origins, and some think this is the Bible’s view of mental disorder or insanity. True, the Bible does tell of cases where persons were possessed by invisible wicked spirits, but this does not mean that it stamps all kinds of mental disorder as demonic possession.
It must be remembered, of course, that the Bible is not a medical book describing the cause for different maladies. Yet it does explain what is the common cause for all human diseases, mental and physical. It shows that we are victims of the imperfection resulting in death that was passed on to the human race by our sinful forefather Adam. As the apostle Paul explains: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) This means that every descendant of Adam is imperfect and thus somewhat deficient both mentally and physically. Therefore, mental aberrations are but extreme forms of an inherited weakness we all have.*
God’s Provisions for the Mentally Ill
That God does care for those mentally ill can be seen by the provisions he has made. First, he lays the obligation to care for them upon their closest family members. At 1 Timothy 5:8 we read: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” No exception is made for members of the household who are sick.
This means that mates have such obligations toward each other. A Christian wife who readily decided to take care of her husband at home when he was struck by a severe mental illness commented: “You marry for better or for worse, don’t you?” She lovingly took care of him for years until his death.
Likewise, God lays the obligation upon parents to care for their sick children. The parents may have passed a genetic defect on to them. A Swedish couple whose three-year-old boy was born with an incurable chromosome defect that caused him to be severely retarded said this: “He is our child. We have brought him into the world. We can’t think of leaving him with someone else. We love him so much. We want to help him make the very best of his life. It is a big job, but he is really making progress, and that makes us happy.”
The same is true when one’s parents are in need of care. God’s Word shows that grown children also have the obligation to care for their aged handicapped parents, including those who are no longer fully sound in mind.—1 Timothy 5:4.
There may, of course, be circumstances making it inadvisable to care for a mentally ill person at home. He may be a danger to himself or others, may need special treatments or constant professional care, or may be totally unwilling to stay at home. Care for him in the home may also become too heavy a burden upon other family members, severely affecting their own health and welfare. But if such circumstances do not exist, the best place to care for him may be in the home, where the family arrangement lovingly instituted by God may well contribute to the person’s progress toward recovery.
How God’s Word Helps
A provision of God that can be used when caring for mentally disturbed persons is helping them to take in knowledge from the Bible. Examples show that mentally disturbed persons have been relieved of much tension and anguish, and at times have even been cured, by having their thinking adjusted through knowledge from God’s Word. Why so? Primarily because the Bible is a book that provides spiritual guidance and infuses hope in man. (Romans 15:4, 13) Hope is especially vital for depressed persons. And God’s spirit, along with a strong hope, can help a confused person to adjust his thoughts and resume wholesome ways.
Therefore, a regular Bible study has often proved to be beneficial. A mind that deviates from a normal way of thinking needs adjustment, as does a clock that keeps going too slow or too fast. The clock may still be useful if it is regularly set against a correct clock. By means of the Bible Jehovah God has provided man with a “correct clock,” a standard for right thinking. If a mentally disturbed person is regularly helped to make use of this fine provision, it brings comfort, faith and hope to that one’s troubled mind.
That is what happened with Florence, the young woman described at the beginning of this article. A woman from the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited her parents and arranged to hold a weekly Bible study with her. The Witness says: “In the beginning she was very shy and sensitive and would rush out of the room and cry. But gradually, as she gained Bible knowledge, she became more balanced. Next, I acquainted her with other persons whom I invited to attend the study, and finally, for the first time in several years, she could leave home to accompany me to a meeting. Florence is now living a normal life. She is married, has two small children and is herself conducting Bible studies with others. Her own comment was: ‘I would never have managed to rise again without the truth and the hope from the Bible.’”
The Power of Prayer
Praying regularly with a mentally disturbed person may likewise help to bring better order to the confused mind. This provision from God can serve as a safety valve through which depressing thoughts can be released. The apostle Peter combined being “sound in mind” with being “vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7) Through prayer God may be reached at any time, day or night. And he invites us to petition him “in everything,” which also includes mental problems.—Philippians 4:6.
The efficacy of prayer can be seen by the following example: A married man in Belgium had suffered from severe mental disorders since childhood. He accepted a Bible study with Jehovah’s Witnesses and he writes:
“As soon as I understood that Jehovah is the only true God, I prayed, asking him to help me change because I realized that my behavior was anything but normal. Up to that time no psychiatric treatment had been effective, in spite of my being interned three times and undergoing all sorts of analytic tests. I thought of refusing medication, becoming aware of its ineffectiveness, but what would replace it?
“As soon as I stopped taking the sedatives, my nervous tension was such that I was barely able to chew my food. I supplicated Jehovah many times each day and each time a feeling of peace came over me. Bible thoughts that came to mind also helped greatly. At first, this was of short duration, but I persevered. I realized that God’s spirit was really helping me out. Little by little, as the weeks, months and years passed, the fits diminished in both frequency and intensity. The battle had been won! I can certify that today I lead a normal life, being capable of shouldering my responsibilities and developing a Christian personality. I can do no better than encourage all those who have similar problems to turn to our God, Jehovah, to receive help.”
Care Through the Christian Congregation
There is yet another way that Jehovah God shows his care for the mentally ill, and that is through the Christian congregation. Here God has lovingly arranged for elders to take the lead. They endeavor to follow the counsel: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Years of study of God’s Word and practical experience in handling problems have made Christian elders qualified to help all kinds of persons coming to them. They manifest genuine interest, patiently listening to all that the troubled one has to say. Christian elders are aware of the importance of trying to understand instead of being quick to censure a person or minimize the significance of his feelings. Despite their own shortcomings and limitations, elders sincerely try to comfort and help. Said the recovered Belgian man: “I must stress the love shown by the elders who, although not always understanding the situation, were there to sustain me as well as my family.”
The elders also want to help troubled ones attend meetings of the Christian congregation. Held in a peaceful and sober spirit, such meetings provide wholesome association and a calming atmosphere for all who are willing to benefit from them.
What About Incurable Cases?
Obviously, not every case of mental illness can be cured by means of the provisions mentioned here. However, experience has shown that many mentally or emotionally troubled persons have recovered or have gained at least a measure of relief through them. Of course, there are cases so severe that the afflicted person cannot grasp Bible knowledge and understand spiritual things. But even in such instances, some relief has resulted from letting the person dwell in an atmosphere of love and security.
Some situations may seem hopeless and difficult to endure. This does not mean that God does not care. Concerning the rule of God’s Messianic King, it was said prophetically: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save.”—Psalm 72:1, 12, 13.
With permanent relief in view, God has permitted this imperfect human condition to exist during a certain period of time. But not forever! The Scriptures assure us that all unpleasant aspects of human life will completely disappear when God’s heavenly Kingdom government replaces Satanic rule with divine rulership of the earth.—Daniel 2:34, 44; Revelation 21:4.
Yes, soon Jehovah God will remove the causes of all human disorders, both physical and mental. He really does care.
For fuller discussion, please see Awake! of April 22, 1975.