I will never forget the morning after my son experienced his first psychotic break and was transferred to a psychiatric evaluation center in downtown Phoenix to be assessed for court ordered treatment. I did not understand the first thing about psychosis and psych centers. Anxiously I picked up the phone and called the number on a business card that a police officer had given to my husband.
“How is our son Seth doing?” I asked the behavioral health technician who answered.
“Your son is Seth?” he chuckled, “ma’am, your son is a psychopath. Give him the number to a homeless shelter and pack his bags!” More chuckles.
My heart sank in despair as I fell to my knees that morning. His words felt ominous at the time, as if he were declaring a line from Dante’s poem, “All hope abandon ye who enter here!”
Despite the dramatic greeting, we would eventually get help for our son. But that introduction into the adult mental illness system would burn a scar over the years that would never fade. It was a correct representation of how a managed care health system ranks someone with significant mental health needs: costly and disposable.
Do you think I am being the dramatic one now? Consider that in March 2023, the government of Canada will join 5 other countries in allowing physician assisted suicide for people living with serious mental illness even though fewer than half of Canadians support it. When I did a google search on “MAID,” Medical Assistance in Dying, I came across this website with the tagline “Dying with Dignity.” My husband Matthew and I recoil at this message. How can you promote dying with dignity when as a society we have not poured ourselves into pursuing what life with dignity could look like for someone living with a serious mental illness?
It’s as if we went straight from the horrors of institutions, though not everything about them was inhumane, to a boot out the back door. As a Christian, how do I begin to think about this?
Well, it should come natural to me given the incredible mercy I’ve received. I am loved despite everything I’ve done to earn the exact opposite. Christ gave me life when I deserved death. Would I then turn to my fellow man and offer him death? There is a better way, and it is not as complicated as we think.
We can begin by caring for caregivers of people living with serious mental illness. Currently our support group relates with at least thirty people either through meetings or advocacy help. Just imagine if more churches related with thirty people in their own communities. The church can be a refuge for families. Jesus engaged lovingly with people who had fallen through the social systems, the church must do this too.
Not only should we begin to support families, but we should enter their stories. We must listen and learn. Then we can start to speak up and become advocates for those who cannot do so for themselves. And we can do this with knowledge and compassion.
Genesis 1 slams it home; we are people made from dust in the brilliant design and image of God. Everyone worthy of respect. Disability does not diminish our value; in fact, I believe based on what I read in the bible, that it awakens God’s tender affection. He has eyes for the outcast, we must have them too. In the coming months we will be intentionally sharing more about our caregiver support group and how you can partner with us to offer a better way, the way of life.