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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Insanity, Madness, and the Family

My life has been touched by the suffering of the mentally ill.  My mother suffered severe mental illness and was committed to Western State Hospital in Washington State.  A coma induced by insulin shock treatment caused some permanent brain damage, yet the depression lessened over the years.  She is still alive in a nursing home.
My paternal Grandmother suffered from bipolar disorder (before it was given that name) and kept going off her medications. Sadly, she committed suicide rather than continue in a depressed state. I had read some of the works of R.D Laing, especially "Insanity, Madness, and the Family" who was an advocate of using the small group home, the trusting carrying community, as a form of treatment for mental illness.  I had often dreamed of someday being a part of a community dedicated to this.
When  I returned to the Seattle area after many years in California, seeking a return to the church I had left when I was quite young, I became involved in a group called Agape Outreach, which ran small group Christian homes for mentally ill adults. I saw first had the healing effects of community that Laing had talked about, couple with the healing effects of prayer and scripture. I lived with mentally ill adults, which is what God was calling me to at that time, and formed lifetime friendships with mentally ill adults.  I saw combined many of the teachings of community that Dorothy Day talked about, the ideas of progressive psychotherapists and the faith walk of Christians.  Not a preplanned combination --it's just what happened naturally.  I don't know that the groups leader, Pat Dennis had ever heard of R.D. Laing, until I mentioned him one day.  But she had proved him right.

While a Christian faith is not guarantee  that there will be no behavioral issues among the mentally ill, I saw a diminishment of those issues.  One day I deliberately left a twenty dollar bill in the living room.  Had I left that out in a house with several non-Christian roommates, or even with certain Christians, I would not have found it there the next day.  And yet the next day it was there, sitting in the living room for all to see.

Today in this country we need to respond to the problems of the mentally ill, providing them adequate housing and resources for treatment.  I believe we should look closely at the small group home as a way of treating the mentally ill, and teaching them practical living skills.

Please pray for those who suffer those mental and emotional problems.  It is a terrible burden to have the mind and heart haunted.  

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