On Involuntary Hospitalization: Taking Back the Narrative of Serious Mental Illness

Ethnic studies is taking off in some parts of the US. Groups of people who have been historically discriminated against are defending their right to tell their stories their way. I see the value of people who are marginalized – and those of us with mental health challenges are certainly marginalized – controlling their own narrative. My starting this blog is liberating, and this is so largely because I’m controlling my own narrative and sharing it with others to help others. I’m saying what has worked for me.

How can people with serious mental illness take back their narratives? By admitting we need help. And if we have been involuntarily hospitalized, this means that we have lost the dignity of being able to control our own narratives without help.

But guess what? Once we’re stable it never needs to happen again.

We cannot hope to control our narrative and become full and respected members of society if we do not commit to treatment.

Taking back the narrative on serious mental illness means admitting we need help. Taking back the narrative on serious mental illness means that we are taking the appropriate steps to stay stable. Like sleeping regularly, eating well, and exercising. Like avoiding workaholism. You know – things that everyone, and not just the ill, should do.

Question: Why should we do this as Christians? Won’t God cure us??? And aren’t we lacking faith if we rely on medication? 

Answer: Is a diabetic lacking faith that they take insulin?

If we are eating all the junk food we want and have developed late-onset diabetes due to lifestyle issues, we should not just take insulin. We should make healthier life choices. But we cannot forget that God works in human history through advances in medical science. Why wouldn’t we take care of ourselves so that we can help others and serve the way we were meant to as Christians?

A lot of us don’t take medicine because we feel like it means we’re weak or defective and that by taking medicine we are admitting our own failure. But consider this: if we are worried about why God isn’t working in a certain way in our life – why isn’t he curing me? – then perhaps, just maybe, we are focusing on the wrong thing. In Luke 6:42, Jesus criticizes followers who are judging others without taking care of themselves first by reminding them that they must tend to their own well-being before setting about transforming the world in the image of Christ. Jesus says,

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This is so apt in the case of mental health. When we are really struggling, we can’t see straight. Our mission as Christians is to help people. Helping people is more important than feeling like we’ve been cured or healed, and the healing that can come from medicine and therapy allow us to take the focus off of ourselves and put it back on the kingdom of God where it belongs. We must help ourselves so we can get over ourselves and get back into the game of living. And help comes from community, not just professionals. This is a picture of my husband and myself taken the year I was hospitalized twice.

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