Christians and Mental Illness: an Interview with Simonetta Carr

The author of Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends them shares further insights about her experience with schizophrenia.

Our readers are familiar with Simonetta’s many excellent biographies for young people. Last Friday we reviewed her latest book, a memoir of her experience with her son’s schizophrenia. Today she joins us for an interview:

1. Looking back on your three-year struggle with Jonathan’s illness, what do you see as your greatest enemy in that struggle?  How was it overcome?

It was probably fear. Schizophrenia is such an unpredictable
and incomprehensible illness. I never knew what to expect or what was going on
in my son’s mind. And he often seemed frightened too, which made my fears even
worse, even if I tried not to show it.

To me, the only way to fight fear is by remembering God’s
promises. The Bible is full of exhortations to courage. And when God tells us
not to fear, he usually explains why. “For the battle is mine…” or
“For I will be with you…” And it all boils down to knowing who God
is. I am grateful for a church where the gospel is preached week after week,
because knowing that God is with us is not enough. We need to know who this God
is for us in Christ.

2. If you could choose
one thing to do differently, what would it be?

If I could go back before my son became sick, then I would
wish I were better informed about schizophrenia and mental illness in general. If
you don’t know anything about it, it can hit like a tsunami.

3. That’s one reason why your book is so valuable–it gives all of us a chance to inform ourselves. In relation to that, how can Christians outside the family help a family in their church that’s dealing with mental illness?

Just be
there for them. Some people don’t do or say anything because they are afraid to
make mistakes, but no one is expecting them to be perfect. I was so glad when
people came up to my son and acted friendly. It showed that he was accepted and
appreciated. Some took him out for coffee or bowling, and our pastor used to
come over every week to play chess with him. These seem like little gestures,
but they mean so much.

And the
same goes for the family. Sometimes, families of people who live with a mental
illness are just as lonely because they can’t share everything that’s on their
hearts. They are also involved in a constant battle to make sure their loved
ones are safe and encouraged. I am thankful for everyone who came up to me
offering prayers and help. Some gave me their numbers and told me to call any
time, and I often did. It was such a comfort to know that there was someone
else out there ready to stand by my side when the going was rough.

4. What’s the most
important thing you want the church to know about mental illness?

Jonathan Carr, age 14

Mental illness is real, and it’s all around us. I hear so
many tragic stories from people who are told their mental illness is simply a
manifestation of a spiritual condition which they can overcome by prayer and
faith. And if they don’t, they are seen as weak or sinful. This behavior is
more hurtful than people realize. Prayer and faith are of course important, but
it’s important to know that mental illness is a physical condition. To me, this
is obvious by the simple fact that medications diminish the voices that plague
people with schizophrenia. The sooner the church can accept mental illness as
an actual ailment, the sooner it can become the supportive community God
intended it to be.       

5. I’ve heard this from other Christians who have struggled with various forms of mental illness. How are you different now, emotionally and spiritually?

I am definitely not the same person I was seven or eight
years ago. I think the greatest thing I learned has been to control my
emotions. I still have a long way to go but I am a lot more conscious of how my
words and reactions can affect those around me.

I am also more convinced than ever of God’s power and goodness. He has sustained me through incredible odds. Some people have remarked that I have a lot of courage, but to tell you the truth, I can fall apart quite easily in trivial situations like getting lost while I am driving. At the same time, I have been able to withstand great challenges simply because the Lord has sustained me. And these repeated evidences of his power and goodness, coupled with the objective promises and testimonies in his word, give me confidence that he will continue to uphold me.

That’s an encouragement for all of us. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and may we all be more sensitive about your brothers and sisters who are dealing with mental illness.
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