Published by Herald Press on October 5, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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A practical guide for people who care
There is no time in history and no place in the world where so many people have understood themselves to be suffering from mental health problems. There is also virtually no time and no place in the world where people who are suffering have been so readily ostracized.
In Not Quite Fine, author Carlene Hill Byron tackles the mounting dilemmas that pastors and churches face around mental health. Medicines and therapies have their roles in supporting those who live with mental health problems or mental illness. But God’s own body as the church is intended to be our greatest support in this world. How can the church step up for such a time as this? How can the body of Christ become a healing community for its members in pain—a place where the weary find strength for the journey, a place where those who mourn are raised up as rebuilders of the cities left in ruins? Drawing on her own history of mental health problems and her experience as a teacher and lay counselor, Byron offers words of hope for those who struggle as well as practical insights to equip congregations to better support those who are suffering in their midst.
By and large, the church has not proven itself to be a reliable resource when it comes to the treatment or acre of mental health. Ignorance is often at play—pastors and church members simply aren’t trained to handle mental health issues. Poor theology sometimes plays a part with mental health problems wrongly being conflated as sin or even (yikes!) demon possession. And this poor showing is really just a reflection of the culture at large, which has also not always done a great job in understanding or caring for those with mental health problems. In Not Quite Fine, Carlene Hill Byron interweaves her own story of mental health struggles with a blueprint of how we—we as individuals, we as a church body, and we as a culture—can do better.
One of the things I appreciated about the book was its foundational explanation of why mental health problems have been rapidly increasing. A primary argument I hear for those who tend to downplay mental health issues is “we didn’t have this when I was growing up,” implying that this generation is somehow weaker, softer, or (for men) less masculine than previous generations. Byron deftly shows how different factors have led to the increase. Some of it is reduced stigma—people are talking about their diagnoses more often. Some of it is that we have more tools to care for mental health, thus more things are becoming diagnosable. Most importantly, Byron writes, are sociological factors. In past generations, depression was seen as a normative response to grief or loss, lasting for years. Today, there’s an expectation that losses and grief will be “processed” in a week or less. These sociological changes dictate much of the mental health explosion.
Byron also addresses those who do not feel qualified to handle or treat mental health problems. This chapter is especially relevant to clergy who are often called upon to provide pastoral counseling and who may know just enough to be dangerous. Byron is clear that individuals do not need to be medical experts, they just need to how and when to refer a mental health issue to an expert. People with mental health problems are people, and they need other people in their lives who will love them and care for them—not just experts to diagnose and attempt to cure them.
Not Quite Fine is a much-needed resource for the church. It destigmatizes mental health issues while providing clear and actionable instructions for readers to put into practice. Too often, the church fails to act in this area because it isn’t properly equipped. Not Quite Fine equips the church to respond to this crisis and act appropriately. Studies suggest that 1 in 2 people will deal with a mental health problem in their lifetime. The church must know how to navigate this crisis in a way that is loving, respectful, and helpful. Byron teaches us to do just that.