One helpful section of this helpful book, Broken Minds, is the authors’ emphasis on the importance of the Christian marriage covenant. In other words, what does a husband do when his wife suffers a mental illness? What does a wife do when her husband is debilitated by mental illness? What do you as a husband or wife do when you’re the one who is mentally ill? A brief biblical answer is love one another. Keep your family in mind during a crisis. The Bloem’s expand on this main principle. I’ve listed their anchoring precepts for a family crisis below (they are edited for the sake of space).
1) Remember God holds the marriage covenant in high esteem. If your loved one is sick, it can take what seems a superhuman feat to persevere. Pray for grace and submit to God’s Word by sticking with your spouse and family.
2) Never make a decision of importance while either depressed or manic – especially manic. In a state of mania, you must be aware that you cannot trust what you may be certain is true. The side effects of some mental illnesses include inflated self-esteem, hyper-sexual fantasies, and other extremes. Those with a tendency toward a manic phase are well advised to adopt a conscious habit to always doubt the truth of impressions, perceptions, feelings, and judgment. Don’t trust yourself. Rely upon someone who is trustworthy to help you sort out your thoughts, emotions, and desires. Don’t trust perceived revelations from God, but stick to simple, direct precepts in Scripture, praying that he guides you through the valley. And deny any urge to find previously hidden meanings in a biblical text.
3) Make a conscious decision not to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate. The Devil wants to destroy God’s ordained institutions, and the breakup of the family is one of his chief aims. Too many counselors are quick to advise the spouse that it is far more advantageous to separate or divorce than to stick it out when the symptoms become severe. Some counselors will even say that to the one who has the mental illness. You may have to utilize treatment centers or hospitals, but don’t take the “easy” way out of divorce. When you and your spouse are in a right frame of mind, make this firm decision to press on together.
4) Do not go off your medications for any reason, except as directed by a knowledgeable medical doctor. When you are feeling well, it is hard to remember how bad it can get. Do not let your ‘recovered’ brain chemistry deceive you into thinking that the medicine’s benefits were ‘all in your mind’ or a ‘placebo effect.’ You are feeling better because the medicine is doing its work!
5) Do not abandon God’s economy for order in the family because of illness. Whatever society may tell you, gender roles do matter, and they are biblical. Husbands are the heads of the home. It may be difficult, but they must do their prayer-filled best to maintain their role even through illness. And when a wife is ill, the husband has a holy responsibility to protect his wife and that means not shrugging off the times when she ‘has the blues.’ Pray for your wife, and support her as much as you can during the desperate times. Sometimes you have to go through regular schedules and routines while ill; don’t throw in the towel. Spouses should support one another in their biblical roles. It is also advisable to seek help from your church family (p. 92-96).
Again, this is just a summary of a helpful – and much-needed! – discussion. I recommend this book for pastors and elders who have parishioners suffering mental illnesses. I also recommend it for those who struggle with mental illness as well as those involved in lives of others who face this difficult trial in life. As Steve and Robyn Bloem know so well, there is hope in Christ and his Word for those who are mentally ill. It is a hellish trial, but mental illness, like any trial, is temporary for the people of God. It will not last forever. On that last day when Jesus makes all things new, not a single one of God’s people will suffer any sort of illness. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
rev shane lems