I am fascinated by mental illness. Part of this comes from an interest in just about everything that is abnormal or unusual. Part of it comes from the constant battle to understand and improve myself. I have childhood onset obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as well as struggling with depressive episodes. I have spent years battling and learning about my disorders. That said, I am convinced that raising knowledge about mental illness, especially amongst those who are or desire to be leaders, is essential to doing things more effectively in the future than we have in the past. I am not suggesting that everyone needs to become psychiatrists or psychologists – but rather that anyone of us who wants to be a leader should seek to understand the general nature of mental illness as well as its most common manifestations.
To be mentally ill is not always (or even generally) to have a complete break with reality. Individuals such as myself (and many others) make up the majority of sufferers from mental illness. We function rather normally on a day-to-day basis. The truth is that mental illness can be extremely subtle and yet heavily damaging. As leaders we need to increase our ability to see the subtle signs of mental illness and help those we love and lead get the assistance they need from professional practitioners. This is not about taking someone who is non-functional and bringing them to a point of functioning, rather it is about taking individuals who are functioning (perhaps ourselves) and removing (or smoothing out) the roadblocks that hinder them.
Will you really meet that many mentally ill individuals? Absolutely. According to the National Institute of Mental Health over 25% of adults in the United States are suffering from a mental disorder right now. That is nearing 60 million people in the United States alone. Granted, it is around 1/4th of this number who suffer from severe mental disorders in the U.S., but this means that around 1 out of 4 individuals have at least a mild mental illness and 1 out of 16 have a serious mental illness.
In this series of blog posts my intentions is to point to some general resources on mental health that can serve as quick primers on the nature of mental disorders as well as specific resources on the most common mental disorders. I hope you will consider joining me in studying and understanding this rapidly expanding field so we can better love and lead those around us. I especially urge religious leaders to become involved in this study. As leaders we must work on our ability to differentiate spiritual and physical ailments and assist our congregants in receiving the correct assistance.