Treating the whole person
In 2007 Malkia Newman was appointed to the board of the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority and she now chairs this board. Speaking at last month’s Public Services Committee meeting, she shared her insights from being the only person ever to be treated by the program and, then, to become its board chair. “Having received the treatment, having received the education, because education and treatment go hand in hand – you can’t just throw medicine at a problem, you have to treat the whole person.”
And she is passionate about this. She said, “I came out of the darkness and I walk in the light.” “I have a life that I never had before.” She shared how, after 30 years of going undiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, she is now able to be in a marriage and be active in the community.
Jeffrey Brown, Executive Director of the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, also spoke at this Public Services Committee meeting. He said, “Mental health… is a part of someone’s whole being. “It’s the health of thinking, the health of feeling, the health of interpreting and perceiving information…” It’s “being able to participate [in the world] as a full human being.”
The Bible (in KJV Mark chapter 5) relates that Jesus once healed an insane man who was then found “in his right mind”, and on another occasion, before restoring him to health, Jesus asked an invalid, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (KJV John 5:6). These give us a glimpse into how to improve mental health through a broader approach that takes into account spirituality and the patient’s wholeness as intrinsic aspects of their health.
Having a connection with others allows for participating fully, with others, in the world.
In a Daily Mail article in the U.K. entitled, The power of prayer: Believing in God can help treat depression, Rachel Reilly writes of research conducted at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, saying, “Researchers concluded that a belief in God is associated with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care.”
So, it’s not only feeling connected to other people but also to the divine that’s beneficial.
Professor John Swinton of the University of Aberdeen says: “…good dementia care has to do with enabling the persons to remain in relationship with God and with one another despite the ravages of the condition.”¹
But another study² found that people who believe in an angry, vengeful god are more likely to suffer from four psychiatric symptoms: social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion.
What are we to make of this? It appears that a connection with a higher power helps with mental health when it results in feeling loved, and this is hindered – even reversed – when one conceives of the divine as punitive. What helps is understanding that the divine is beneficent and loves, and then feeling a connection to this view of a higher power and being.
In his book entitled, Proof of Heaven, Eban Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon who spent fifteen years on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, writes about the healing effects of finding a loving connection both with family and with the divine.
Dr. Alexander was adopted at birth and he knew of that from childhood and he loved his adoptive parents. But as an adult, he longed to find his biological parents. After struggling unsuccessfully to connect with his birth mother, he said, “over the next few months an ocean of sadness opened up within me… And I watched in disbelief as my roles as doctor, father, and husband became ever more difficult to fulfill.”³ At this point, his ability to “participate [in the world] as a full human being” was impaired, perhaps similar to that of Malkia Newman before treatment from Oakland County mental health services helped her.
When he finally met his biological mother, she told him of how she loved him so much and how she had tried so hard to find a way to keep him. Dr. Alexander writes, “Discovering that I had been loved, since the very beginning, began to heal me in the most profound way imaginable. I felt a wholeness I had never known before.4
And later, through a near death experience during seven days in a coma – which is the main focus of his book – Dr. Alexander found his connection with the divine and says that the message he received was:
- “You are loved and cherished.”
- “You have nothing to fear.”
- “There is nothing you can do wrong.”
And he says that if he had to boil this down to one sentence, it would be, “You are loved.”5
Dr. Alexander emphasizes that the characteristic that makes this love so powerful is that it is unconditional. He writes, “The unconditional love and acceptance that I experienced on my journey is the single most important discovery I have ever made, or will ever make…”6
He calls this both an emotional truth and a scientific truth.
Dr. Alexander found his mental capacities restored: language, memories, recognition and even his sense of humor. He put it succinctly, “I wasn’t sick, or brain-damaged. I was completely well.”7
And he offers this insight: “The (false) suspicion that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe, and the cure for it…was the knowledge that nothing can tear us from God, ever.”8
When it comes to mental health, perhaps the apostle Paul connects the dots for us when he said, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”9