Anxiety and Mental Illness Labeling
May 9, 2019
It's been gratifying to see such a favorable response to Finding Quiet and to learn how the book is already helping to foster various discussions! I would like to address two follow-up questions:
- Why is virtually everything negative about us now called or seen through the lens of 'mental illness'?
- If someone is often anxious (e.g., due to life circumstances), that does not mean that one is mentally ill, right?"
I actually agree with the implied premise of this first question. I think we overuse therapeutic language when, e.g., a mass shooting occurs. This may be a relevant part of figuring out what happened and it might not. A case by case investigation is the only way to know. But what is almost always left out is moral language and explanation. Maybe the person did it because he is just evil, and his actions were freely chosen and he/she is responsible for those actions.
But in my book, I was trying to accomplish a limited goal. Scripture teaches we have three broad enemies that work against us: the world (that part of collective human culture that is contrary to the Word of God), the flesh (our fallenness/brokenness) and the devil. The focus of my book was the first two, especially the second. These enemies combine (along with the demonic which, due to space limitation, I could not treat adequately) to create and exacerbate the depth and extent of our flesh.
Just like fallenness can affect our physical health, it can also affect our psychological/spiritual health which I combine to call "mental health". I merely meant by the term that our psychological/spiritual lives were broken, in my book, by anxiety and depression, and we need to restore health (the way we were created to function, flourish, have shalom) in some way or another. And I try to offer ways to do this.
Concerning the second question, I completely agree with this comment as well. In my book, I don't think I equate anxiety with mental illness, but if I do, I am mistaken and would like to have the page numbers in the book where I do that so I can correct it in the second printing.
My heart for the reader is primarily for someone who is suffering anxiety/depression in a chronic and debilitating way. My second audience is either someone who was fighting anxiety/depression (A/D) due to some specific bad circumstance in life (situational anxiety) or someone who has mild A/D or someone who wants to learn how to grow such that they don't have very much A/D any longer.
I am a virtue ethicist as I believe Jesus was, so I see one of the three major purposes in life as becoming like Jesus, embodying the fruit of the Spirit, and finding flourishing and shalom in the Kingdom. Given the goal of flourishing/shalom according to the way God made us to function, it is appropriate to call this "being holistically healthy according to the nature of the Kingdom". Given this, it follows that it can be appropriate to call anxiety of certain sorts a lack of health, an illness, etc. And that was my aim in using the word.
I remember you sharing candidly about this subject from your story when I was at seminary. Thanks for putting a book out there for fellow strugglers!