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My “uncle Sonny” has schizophrenia.  He’s a wonderful man with tremendous mental illness. So, I was glad to see this short clip and TED talk from Elyn Saks. Elyn Saks is a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at USC Gould School of Law, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship winner and the author of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (Hyperion, 2007). She spoke at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, UK, in June.

Here’s Elyn Saks’ presentation at TEDGlobal.

These videos interest me, in part, because of my uncle’s battles and, in part, because many of us pastor people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. I hope we’ll all continue to love such people deeply and seek to get the clinical and professional help needed.

Here’s another illustration of how mental illness can reduce otherwise productive, loving people to people in serious need.  It’s the story of ‘Pop’ Herring, Michael Jordan’s high school basketball coach.  Thomas Lake writes an open letter to Jordan wondering why the NBA Hall of famer hasn’t offered any help to his former coach and chronicling in empathetic fashion the compounding problems Herring faces due to schizophrenia.  Moving.

Mental illness has for too long been stigmatized, even among helping professionals and clergy. May the Lord grant us grace to overcome the stigma and to be a means of practical help and love.


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4 thoughts on “Serving People with Mental Illness”

  1. Christy says:

    Thanks for this Pastor Thabiti! My mom has schizophrenia and it has been one of the single most defining aspects of our family. I am grateful to my father for sticking through all of the hard times and good times by her side. Also grateful for medication and the resources God has given doctors this day in age to help my mom live a relatively normal life.

  2. Karen Butler says:

    “May the Lord grant us grace to overcome the stigma and to be a means of practical help and love.”

    I appreciate this post, more than I can say. Thank you, Thabati, it expresses my heart, too. My mother was Schizoaffective –bipolar, and schizophrenia, mixed. She was in and out of mental hospitals until the advent of lithium made all the difference in the world. But I am so glad for the Gospel that saved her, and ultimately healed her, as I wrote to a commenter above,

    “it was the Gospel that renewed my Schizoaffective mother’s mind, when she was dying of emphysema and had to go off her psych meds. Her growth in grace was astonishing, even to her social worker, who marveled at her lucidity, and peace. It was the continuous preaching of the Gospel and the reading of the Scriptures that miraculously healed her mind.

    Before she died, my sister wanted her to have assurance — she asked, You know Mom, you will not be plunged into Limbo, that you will go straight to heaven, right? Do you know why? And my mother answered, with a radiant face, “Because Jesus paid the price!”

    And in seeking to overcome the stigma of mental illness, I have tried to write openly about my own battles, here:http://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/out-of-darkness-light/

    I thank God for my struggles, because

    “I was shaken to wakefulness at last, when in His sovereign will He allowed me to suffer a psychotic break. I thank God for this ‘severe mercy’ –it woke me to do urgent battle against my sin instead of devising ways to escape it. The struggle to repair my broken mind made me a disciple of Jesus instead of a double-minded person looking to every wind of false doctrine and wave of a magic wand in hopes to make all the suffering go away quick. It made me love the Word of God with even greater passion. It made me compassionate towards others who suffer, and gave me a comfort that gives hope to others. This weakness became my greatest strength because I had to constantly depend on Jesus.”

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Thabiti Anyabwile photo

Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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