It covers the difficult topic of mental illness, with a Christian perspective. In some ways, it is harder to be a Christian grappling with mental issues, because, as the book mentions, people feel that Christians should not have mental issues, as if it is attributable to a lack of faith.
Others feel that anyone with depression should just ‘snap out of it’, but they do not realise that it is a physical condition, just like cancer. No one quite asks a cancer patient to ‘snap out of it’, because they know very well that it’s not possible.
Written by John Ting, himself a pastor and someone who is afflicted with depression, it is written with honesty and from a completely empathetic perspective. He has also been a certified instructor of the Mental Health First Aid programme in Singapore.
I found it very refreshing to read his balanced views (on the physical versus the spiritual dimensions of mental afflictions) and the many testimonies included in the book were also very helpful to me, in gaining greater understanding of the struggles of those with mental afflictions.
Personally, I feel that mental issues are sometimes much harder to deal with, as compared to physical illness; both for the sufferer, as well as their carers.
Most of the time, the sufferer genuinely does not feel that he or she needs any medical treatment at all. However, most people with psychological afflications who agree to be medically diagnosed, discover a chemical imbalance in the brain, which manifests itself in various forms of mental issues. Without being personally convinced that one is ill, one is most unlikely to seek or easily agree to treatment. As such, the task of getting better, is an uphill one.
With physical illness, at least the symptoms are usually quite undeniable. The sufferer feels physically unwell, and knows they he or she has to accept treatment, or feel weaker and weaker.
With mental afflictions, the sufferer tends to feel that others are being unreasonable, or that everyone is against them. Sometimes, those who suffer from depression recognise that they need help, but due to the social stigma associated with such issues, many refuse to admit that they need help or seek treatment, for fear of being shunned or labelled by others.
At times, depression is for a season, such as for those who suffer from post-natal blues. What is commonly termed “baby blues” is more prevalent that most people think, and I feel it’s totally understandable, given the physical hormonal fluctuations, and the sense of helplessness in caring for newborns, who can be extremely difficult. There is no shame in admitting to feeling depressed, and in consulting a doctor on it, for the entire family, not least the newborn child, will be the better for it.
Other times, depression is a life-long affliction that people have to grapple with, and be under long-term medication for. In many ways, it is like suffering from diabetes. No one questions why a diabetic needs to take insulin injections, so why should they look askance at someone taking medication for schizophrenia?
I believe that most of the stigma comes from a lack of understanding. Many in our society do not fully comprehend that mental illness does not arise from the sufferer being deliberately difficult, or from deliberately choosing to wallow in certain circumstances. Even after comprehending that, it can be extremely difficult to deal with or care for a person with mental illness.
John Ting covers a wide scope in his book, writing about psychosis, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and addictions. The biblical examples and real-life testimonies from Singaporeans from all walks of life were also very enlightening. All in all, I feel that this book deserves to be widely read, whether or not one comes into contact with those those mentally afflicted.
Here are some excerpts:
Mental illness is not necessarily something spiritual that can be prayed away, but often is something pathological that may benefit from medical and psychological intervention.
I have to accept that with my biochemical predisposition something of this may always be there. Antidepressant medication has helped me greatly in overcoming my symptoms.
And for caregivers to avoid burnout, he suggests the following:
- Don’t try to do it all alone – find a caregivers’ support group, know your limits and communicate them to others around you that might be able to help.
- Educate yourself about the care-receiver’s illness. The more you know, the more effective you can be.
- Accept your feelings – allow yourself to feel angry. As long as you don’t compromise the well-being of the care-receiver, allow yourself to feel what you feel.
- Confide in others – talk to people. The best defence against all burnout is usually being with other people. Time to yourself to relax is also important in reducing stress.
- Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own needs and find ways to meet them.
The book also ends with a helpful section on resources on Christian counselling services, halfway houses, and other good books to read. Am truly grateful that a book like this has been published.
You can get a copy of A Gentle Touch here, if you’d like. It is an easy read of less than 90 pages, and has helped me view mental illness from the perspective of various care-receivers.
I do believe that this is an issue that could do with more discourse, and more support groups formed such that those who need help are more ready to receive it. We need to de-stigmatise the acknowledgement that one has such issues, and is taking medication for it, such that more can be helped, and such that more friends and family can come to walk alongside those in this difficult journey.