A Christian Guide to Mental Illness

A Christian Guide to Mental Illness by David Murray and Tom Karel Jr. sits on my list of the top five books about the topic of mental iIlness. Written in 2023 and 244 pages long, this book is divided into 30 short chapters which can easily be read in minutes/small chunks.

What makes this book especially unique and helpful is the very candid personal stories on the topic. At the risk of being pegged a gadfly, I will not repeat any of the personal stories. Suffice it to say that these stories add a definite tone of humility and utter dependence on the Lord, not to mention “personal touch” which draws the reader in and makes the book a “page turner”.

 If my new method of marking especially helpful pages is any indication of the helpfulness of a book, about a dozen pages are marked with a folded corner to revisit, repeat and dig into again, indicating a very helpful book indeed. Also, the chapter titled “The Story Behind This Book” is very personal and adds a wonderful dimension to the contents. “Due to their painful experience of trying to care for Gary through these traumatic years, Norman and his wife, Vicki, felt called of God to donate this money ($70,000, which had been realized from Gary’s estate – Gary had been Norman’s brother and  had schizophrenia) to a research project (this very book!  Thank you!) that would ultimately help Christians care for other Christians with mental illness.” The very last line of the book (before the index) reads: “The purpose of this book is to help the reader understand how the broken brain does not work, (analogy to a broken arm) to set the broken brain in the context of the gospel, and to discover how the church can bring comfort to the mentally ill and their families by watching for a Galatians 5:22-24 moment.”

 The first 11 chapters or almost 100 pages focus on mental illness: what it is, how it affects the sufferer and spiritual life and those around the sufferer. Moreover, addressed are how people react to having it, hurdles to recovery and causes.

     The next chapters (12-18, about 50 pages) focus on roles such as the roles pastors play in helping sufferers, role of church community, role of family and friends. Furthermore, the part that professionals play, medications and biblical counselors are touched on.

     The last 11 chapters (19-30) answer primarily “How can we…” questions. How can we help a sufferer grow spiritually, how can we help someone who is suicidal, and how can care be given for the caregivers. The last question deserves a full book – there’s so much more that can be said about caring for caregivers.

Some favorite parts – the authors give very helpful explanations of the two main types of mental illness, although there is overlap and both may be present in one person. The two categories are primarily affective (mood) disorders and mind disorders. The mood disorders mainly affect the mood or emotions and include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, …” page 24 The second main category is primarily thought (mind) disorders. “While the affective disorders are often disabling and devastating, perhaps more confusing and perplexing are the diagnoses classified under ‘thought disorders.’ These diagnoses would include: schizophrenia … psychosis.” There’s an ongoing struggle to “make sense out of reality.” This involves very disordered thoughts and often an inability to communicate effectively.  These two authors also face the fact and effectively communicate the reality of voices, a topic often glossed over, and at times, disregarded or not thought to be true. Well, voices  are for real, both auditory and visual hallucinations are for real, speaking of those that are  not drug induced.

Another very helpful page was page 61 where the authors discuss submission and service. In the context of the chapter on “How does mental illness affect those around the sufferer,” we read that part of a healthy response to mental illness is “accepting God’s will in the matter.” “We stop fighting and denying. We bow down and say ‘Not my will, but your will be done.’ Going further, those around the sufferer must recognize and accept the sufferer’s limitations and “adjust accordingly.” Accept it, don’t think or try to change it. Why? :This is the only way to silence torturous questions like, “Why me?” or “Why them?”

     The comments about service were very much appreciated as a clear recognition of the long term problem mental illness often is and repercussions. “…therefore it’s best if we frame it as one of the primary areas in which we serve God, rather than as an inconvenience that may hinder our service to God.” How freeing and affirming to read that on page 61.

     In the section pertaining to the role the church community has, the reader is reminded that although mental illness isolates people and “makes them feel unloved and unwanted, deepening the illness,” we should never “underestimate the power of including them and welcoming them in the church family.” In other words, “Mental illness cuts off, but the church family connects.” page 109 (Reviewer’s note: another book could be written on this and the great need of the church to do more.)

  There are so many more gems and highlights of wisdom in this book. It’s really like a treasure trove, and very readable. In fact, the use of white space, bold headings, parenthetical quotes and chapter summaries including problem, insights and action, plus stories, make the book very readable, not daunting which one might think, given the subject matter. 

     A shortcoming of the book is the too short chapter on caring for caregivers. This is such a neglected topic in the whole discussion. (After all, there are still people who think the parent caused the issue or that the sufferer can merely snap out of it… even some who think it’s contagious and they might catch it if they get too close.) So much more could and should someday be written about the caregivers who often rarely get out because they cannot leave their loved one alone. There are many reasons for this, which may warrant yet another book! There are concerns that a voice could tell someone to leave the house and go away, a voice that could say hurt yourself or someone else. And what of the little man in the tree looking back? Or the face in the radio, looking back to torment. Who can write that book?

Free Resource for You!

A List of Mental Health Resources from Daisy Petals

compiled by Jane E. Vos with help from Alyssa, Colleen, AC, Cil, Mo and Debbie!

Learning that you or a loved one has a mental illness can be devastating. Your world is turned “upside down”. Finding support and resources can take months of research. In the meantime, it is easy to lose hope and feel alone. This collection of helpful resources has come together after 5 years of effort. We care about what you’re going through. 

Click here to download.