Growing up with a mother who was a pastor’s wife with Schizophrenia

Growing up with a mother who was a pastor’s wife with Schizophrenia May 3, 2013

In her new book, Troubled Minds, Amy Simpson bravely shares her own story of how her mother’s mental health affected her upbringing. She speaks of not feeling she could tell any of her friends about her mother’s mental illness.  Troubled Minds also weaves in experiences shared by other Christians, and shares the results of a survey of church leaders on the subject. This is an excellent book for those who have no understanding of mental illness, but it also has a great message for those who do already have experience in the area.  There is a real power in stories. This book will help you humanize those suffering from these conditions, much like certain movies set out to do. Reading was a riveting experience, and I even found a tear forming in my eye at some points.

In response to this book we are also hosting a site-wide .  We would love you to join in.

It is hard for many Christians to relate to mental illness because it is something that is not openly or frequently spoken about. It is brave of Amy to share her experiences, and we are grateful to her mother for giving her permission to make this inspiring story public. It is not surprising that most people with mental illness do not feel that they can share in a similar way. Mental illness is a painful part of the lives of those who have experienced it in themselves or have loved ones with a psychiatric diagnosis. It is not always appropriate to share such pain broadly with others.  Not everybody has to live like a celebrity does where privacy simply doesn’t exist.  It is often very unwise to publicly announce that you suffer from such an illness due to the stigma that still surrounds this, in all our communities. We therefore benefit all the more from those who carefully decide they are called to speak openly about their condition for the good of others.

Unfortunately, many people feel unable to share the pain that mental illness causes even with their pastors or close friends.  When people like Amy Simpson bravely tell their stories, it will surely help others  at least feel able to seek support.  Maybe one day we will feel as ready to share openly that we or a loved one is mentally ill as we currently would if the problem was a heart attack.  I doubt that day will swiftly come, nor perhaps should it. But, I do hope that mental illness will cease being the hidden illness that nobody speaks about.  Amy’s book is uncomfortable reading at times as she points out some of the shortcomings of  the approaches of both the typical church and psychiatric services. We can all learn to do much better than we do currently.

Amy’s book is also full of hope.  It is vital for people, especially in the middle of an acute episode, to realize that  for most people there really is a way back from even the most severe attacks.   Doctor’s may not be able to cure mental illness, but it often does respond well to medical treatment. How tragic that so many Christians suffer in silence rather than seeking such help.  I urge you, if you can read only two of my posts on the subject to read the following posts which together outline a way we can all help in identifying people who may benefit from a specialist assessment:

Troubled Minds also outlines how some churches have developed thriving ministries to those with mental illness. She recommends considering starting support groups for those who either suffer themselves or have family members with a mental illness. She also suggests that church pastors should attempt to forge strong partnerships with psychiatrists and therapists (whether Christian or not) for the benefit of  members who suffer in this way.  So often patient’s medical care is not well coordinated, and pastors may feel that if a person is seeing a specialist there is nothing that they can do to contribute.  This could hardly be further from the truth, as I intend to demonstrate further as my own mental health series continues.

If what you have read so far has left you hungry to read  personal accounts and  eager to learn how you could support others, then I highly recommend that you get hold of Amy Simpson’s Troubled Minds and read it.

You can read more about this book over on the Patheos Book Club.

In light of Amy’s book, my own series, mental health awareness month, and the recent tragedy in Rick Warren’s family, I have been asked to host a Patheos-wide conversation on Mental Illness.  Check back here for more details of that on Monday.

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  • The pastor who trained me was married to a lovely woman who struggled with schizophrenia as well. I’d highly recommend his book “Hard Faith” on Amazon wherein he details the 12 years of intense struggle that they survived. Thanks for writing on this Amy.

  • “Mental illness may not be curable, but often does respond well to medical treatment.”

    What bleak words! I’d like to share a more hopeful narrative, one of complete recovery from psychosis. But first, let me push back on the idea that ‘medical treatments are effective’ — can you offer supporting evidence?

    The truth is, you are actually better off living as a schizophrenic in a third world country without medical treatment, as your outcome of recovery without relapse is far better, according to two World Health Organization studies. These found 63.7% of the patients in the poor countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. In contrast, only 36.9% of the patients in the U.S. and six other developed countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. The researchers concluded that “being in a developed country was a strong predictor of not attaining a complete remission.” In the developing countries, only 15.9% of patients were continuously maintained on neuroleptics, compared to 61% of patients in the U.S. and other developed countries.

    And study after study conducted since the 70’s support this astonishing fact, that patients do far better without psych drugs. The Vermont Longitudinal Study, the Rappoport study, and for example, this Harrow study, in which NIMH-funded researchers followed the long-term outcomes of schizophrenia patients, and they found that at the end of 15 years, 40% of the schizophrenia patients who had stopped taking antipsychotics were recovered, versus 5% of those who had stayed on the drugs. Long-term outcomes for patients with “other psychotic disorders” were also much better for those off the drugs than for those who stayed on the medications.

    You can find links to these studies and the other information about them, here: Many of the contributors to that site, which is a wonderful resource for cutting edge science and encouraging words for those who struggle, have made the same conclusion as Dr. Jonathan Cole the author of the ’77 NIMH study who titled his report, “Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?.”

    For those very scientific reasons, I would be very reluctant to be part of a church support group that had a partnership with non-Christian psychiatrists. ButI have found there are spiritual reasons to reject psychiatry’s remedies, as well. Because, like Amy Simpson, I too grew up with a mother who was Schizo-affective (a combination of bipolar and schizophrenia), and I myself had a post-partum psychotic break. But I refuse the stigma and proudly proclaim that there is great hope for recovery to those fighting for a dignified life. Many of us who have recovered refuse the accepted narrative that we have a crippling chemical imbalance in our brains that dooms us to a lifetime of substandard living. Jesus can and does heal those with mental disorders. He still sets captives free:

  • rob

    hi karen, as a psychiatrist i see first hand the consequences of people trying to manage schizophrenia and other severe mental illness WITHOUT medical treatment. Typically people lose their friends, money, house, job and pride. Stories like yours are i am afraid the exception to the rule. antipsychotic medication does have side effects, but so does managing without medication.

  • an

    “Schizophrenia” is really Schizophrenias and the public needs to know this.
    Amongst people “diagnosed” with schizophrenia there are different causes.
    Current psychiatry lumps anyone with similar sounding psychotic or “weird acting” symptoms under the diagnosis of “schizophrenia” however research shows that there in fact different ways that the body/create can cause the outcome of “psychosis”
    We need to start breaking down schizophrenia into a number of categories.
    We need to start asking people with schizophrenia if the have any physical symptoms.
    Some “diagnosed” with schizophrenia have no insight.
    Others have insight.I propose this is because they actually have two different disorders with different pathophysiology.
    Some MUST take medicine to avoid disastrous results in life.
    Others get better with therapies,and stress reduction,internal selfmonitoring.
    Another group,don’t respond to anything,neither antidopaminergic medicines not therapy or ECT….
    I propose that this group will respond to immune system modulators if caught early enough.

    We need to start dealing with this illness the same way as done with headache.
    Medical doctors acknowledge headache can SOUND the same but feel and be very different-eg vascular,tension type etc…..

    “Headache” gets a variety of potential treatments.
    The “schizophrenias” get next to no variety.It’s mostly dopamine antagonists,ECT,Clozapine
    Treatments need to also start including immune system modulators,hormones,TMS available for the non wealthy etc

    We need to get rid of egos and fear thinking.The truth is that some will only want/need therapy.
    Instead of going off fear,we need to come up with techniques to help us better to distinguish who will be healed without medicine vs who will then go out and kill people due to confusion ,psychosis etc..

    It’s walking a fine line,but it takes innovative ideas and level headedness not fearfilled reactions or paternalistic methods etc…