By Tonya Whitaker
Inside The Pew
When the news that Newtown, Conn., school massacre shooter Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome, the media immediately began to spew false information about autism. Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder, not a mental illness. Since the Dec. 14 attack that left 20 children and six adults dead, professionals who work in mental health and parents of children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have taken a stand to educate the public.
“They (the media) are trying to connect some dots, because that is what they do,” said Aimee Colbert, a pastoral counselor in Fort Worth. “Without knowing the truth is irresponsible, it is bad on their part. This type of reaction is especially trying on the people who have to deal with it.”
The media is not the only institution that needs help understanding mental health and developmental disorders; the church does too.
For years, the mental health community has felt the church needs to step beyond reading scripture and prayer to help parents and children of their congregations.
In 2011, author Edward Rogers, and psychologist Matthew Stanford and social worker Diana Garland of Baylor University, found in their study, “The Effects of Mental Illness On Families With Faith Communities,” that “mental illness of a family member can destroy the family’s connection with the religious community, leading many affected families to leave the church and their faith behind.”
The study, which appeared in the online journal “Mental Health, Religion, and Culture,” interviewed 6,000 participants from 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations. Researchers examined the impact of mental illness in a family on church involvement and spiritual practices. Stanford told Dr. Steve Grcevich in a February 2012 interview that approximately a quarter of the families in the survey are struggling with caring for a loved one with mental illness and it has disrupted their connect with God.
“Sadly, these families appear virtually invisible to the congregation as a whole,” said Stanford, who is a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical studies at Baylor University.
Colbert’s thoughts echo of the article. She said churches should do more to address the mental and behavioral needs of their congregants, especially in the African American church.
“It is one of the things that has become a cancer, a virus. Now people are doing off-the-wall things. The church is about meeting needs, if your church has people with mental illness, it must be addressed. There are a lot of things outside of the Bible people need to know. The Bible is not against these things because the Bible doesn’t say it, Colbert said.
“I know of people who feel ashamed. They either feel isolated even stop going to church.”
Ready to make a change?
Is your congregation in need of additional sources to help the children and parents who are affected by mental health and behavioral disorders? Church Basement Press, publisher of titles that support the work of faith-based community organizations, recently published “Defying Mental Illness: Finding Recovery with Community Resources and Family Support” ($19.99 paperback and Nook; $7.99 Kindle, USD). The authors – Paul Komarek and Andrea Schroer – provide help on recovery. It is more than a source for support. The book educates readers on several topics, including childhood disorders, mental illness, suicide prevention, and mental illness in layman’s terms. The book is endorsed by a National Alliance on Mental Illness advocate, who said the book “provides what’s needed most.”
Learn more about Church Basement Press at www.churchbasement.net.