Society and Mental Illness

What are we to do with those who are different? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, we all know that some nutcase went berserk in Connecticut and decided the way to approach reality was to kill his mother, several elementary schoolers, and some teachers. Most of you know his name. I’m not going to bother to repeat it here. I personally think we shouldn’t even show his picture even and should instead spend more time thinking about the victims of a tragedy like this and their families.

Unfortunately, I’m not the one in charge of the media so it doesn’t go that way, alas.

Still, immediately after the news came out that this person could have Asperger’s, like my wife and I do, there were some isolated cases where people started making statements about people with mental illness. What concerns me most is that some of those are the same people who take the name of Christ on their lips and call Him their Lord. I do not doubt they do, but Jesus is Lord of the mentally healthy and the mentally unhealthy.

If we were being accurate at the start, we’d admit that we all have neuroses of some kind, even those of us who have never been diagnosed. There are some ways we are all unrealistic in our thinking. Blaise Pascal once said that if you take a person who is normally rational and suspend him on a plank of sufficient size over a huge chasm, his emotion of fear will start overriding his reason quite quickly.

One of my favorite shows is Monk about the obsessive-compulsive homicide detective. In one extra they have on the DVD sets, they started asking about neuroses of the actors on the series. One I remember is that one of them had a strong hatred of public restrooms. Many of us can relate to that. We can feel much dirtier after being in a public restroom. Some people might have a strong fear of bugs. That’s my Mrs. Some people really can’t stand blood. If I even start hearing a story that is bloody in any way I have to immediately put my hands to my ears and not listen. I can’t even stand seeing a paper cut.

Yeah. I know it’s not rational. Reality is you probably know some areas of your life where your thinking isn’t exactly rational either.

For some, this is a more permanent state. Now it doesn’t mean they’re without reason entirely. I would consider myself a very reasonable person for instance. I love rationality and I love thinking through an issue. Still, I know I have areas of my life where something is overpowering that reason.

In fact, just as I finished that paragraph, I had a call come from the living room that my wife thought there was a spider in there, which she has a huge phobia of to which I try to say “eight-legged things” instead of the word itself. Meanwhile, I go in and find out it’s a ladybug, which I happen to like and refuse to kill or flush. (Could be because I know they help kill other bugs. Could be because when we had a Colecovision, Ladybug was my favorite game on there.)

One show we like to watch together is The Big Bang Theory, which I tell my wife is about four perfectly ordinary guys, which for some reason she never believes. Everyone who watches it knows that Sheldon Cooper is a highly intelligent person with a brilliant mind.

They also know he’s bat crazy. (Despite his claims to the contrary since his mother had him tested.)

Why do I say this? Because mental illness affects everyone. Many of us have one and if we don’t, we know someone who does. I technically have one with Asperger’s, but at the same time, I doubt people would describe me as “mentally ill” in the way we think of illness. Some might say my thinking is off on areas, but they would not use that term.

Some people might take medications for this. My wife is one who does. Some might not. I am one who does not. Let this also be stated. People of the church have sometimes thought that medication for emotional or psychological problems is wrong. Stop it. There can be a problem with the brain just like any other part of the body. Yes. There are dangers with psychiatric drugs just like with most any other drugs, but there are often greater dangers without.

For those of us who are on this spectrum of having a condition, we must be judged on a case by case basis. We’re not all alike, just like people without mental problems are not all alike. I had considered calling this blog “The Church and Mental Illness” but the church is not the only one with a problem. Some people are looking at the mental illness as the cause of what happened.

If I was to point to a cause, as a Christian, I would simply say “Sin.” That might be too vague for some, and indeed in a sense it is vague. I do not know what was going on in this creep’s life, but I know there was something wrong for him to consider that this was what should be done. Unfortunately, the response the church can also have to people with mental illness qualifies as sin, and sin can often lead to more sin.

Of course, this is a factor, but it does not mean that everyone around you who has a condition is set to go off at any minute. Chances are, many people you see around you every day have some sort of mental condition and you don’t even realize it. I suspect most people watching me going through life who are strangers and don’t know me, don’t realize I have Asperger’s. They might see me as a bit quirky in some ways, but they just don’t make a diagnosis. I also don’t fault them for that. They’re not professional counselors. They shouldn’t have to. Now there are times that I am watching someone and I think “I wonder if they’re an Aspie.” My wife and I both do this especially since we have a keen interest in helping people in the field and want to do all we can.

It is odd that we live in a world that preaches tolerance as the greatest virtue, a virtue they get wrong by the way, and yet does not really begin to understand people who are different from them. Unfortunately, one creep like the one in Newtown will get the attention. It won’t be people out there, and I’d dare include my wife and I in it, who are actively seeking to make the world a better place and do whatever we can.

Keep this in mind. The person around you did not pull a trigger. They are not guilty of a crime. They cannot help that they were born with this condition. Yes. There are some behaviors we have to control because of the way we are born, just like most anyone does. Because I am born a man for instance, I can have desire for other women, but I have to control that desire because I’ve promised myself to one. What my wife and I often say about our Asperger’s and how we behave is “It’s an explanation, not a justification.” If we do something wrong because of it, there is a reason why we have likely acted that way, but that does not justify it.

If you are hostile towards people right now on the spectrum of mental illness, you also might have an explanation right now. You’ve heard about this idiot. The same applies to you. That might explain your animosity towards the rest of us, but it sure doesn’t justify it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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4 Responses to “Society and Mental Illness”

  1. Daniel Eaton Says:

    I think many have used the term “mental illness” as equivalent to this guys social awkwardness. But the two are different. When *I* used the term “mental” or “mental illness” to describe the guy, it wasn’t because he had Asperger’s. The guy also had some other issues that were a LOT more severe. He was, for example, incapable of showing any emotional pain or even physical pain. He had taken to burning himself in an attempt to feel something. Social awkwardness doesn’t lead you to harm people. But people with a desire to cause pain to themselves and, apparently others as well, are in a whole different category.

  2. Elizabeth L. D. McGee Says:

    Nick,

    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    I am impressed and touched by your perspective on this tragic event.

    I was not born with a condition, but due to a car accident and head injury I have some differences/traits that are also hard for people to understand sometimes.

    I appreciate reading your posts.
    I am often impressed with the points you bring up that I had never thought of. Sometimes there are even points, that I had thought of, but figured I was the only one who thought that way.

    Beth

  3. Grace Says:

    Thank you for sharing, Nick. God bless you & your wife.

    I certainly can understand your not wanting people to be judgmental towards people with mental health issues but rather realize that everyone is different. Even if they have the same diagnosis.

    However, your referring to Lanza as a creep, idiot, etc, is also judgmental and sinful. As you said, we don’t know what was going on in his life, but something was wrong and it led to sin. We do know that could not feel pain, physically or emotionally. Conversely, neither could he feel joy. It seems to me as a Christian, that should provoke empathy. No one can ever deny that what he did was pure evil, but Jesus told us that only those without sin can cast stones.

  4. apologianick Says:

    Grace. Is it a sin to judge?

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