by Nate Brooks
Some books take courage to write. I suppose every author has a certain degree of courage as they set ideas in stone and allow others to evaluate and critique them. But some topics are more fraught with confusion and trouble than others. Christine Chappell’s Help! I’ve Been Diagnosed with a Mental Disorder addresses a topic that is inescapably personal. Mental disorders are not an “out there” topic, distant from people’s lives, but an “in here” topic that is woven through a person’s own perception of reality. Whatever we may think of the term “mental disorder,” we must first start by recognizing that it speaks to a person’s experience of themselves and others and that deep suffering is taking place.
From the very beginning, Chappell makes clear that this is not merely an academic topic for her. By sentence three, she has declared, “I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder II” (p. 5). She’s quite open about how this diagnosis impacted her internally. “I feared that life as I knew it was over. It felt like a ball and chain had been placed around my ankle, and I was anxious about what the future held for me. More than that, I was unsure how my faith in Christ intersected with this particular problem” (p. 5).
Each of Chappell’s chapters is organized around a particular topic of help for those who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. The first chapter revolves around processing what is meant and not meant by a mental disorder. Chappell is careful to note that not all psychiatric labels are of the same nature. There’s a significant difference between being diagnosed with schizophrenia and being diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder. In addition to their different degrees of personal trouble and disintegration, the first appears to intersect more closely with biological origins and the second with moral origins. Chappell walks a careful line, emphasizing the need for holistic care of body and soul. She notes that, while the psychiatric community was able to describe her experience relatively well, it was “not equipped to care for my soul” (p. 14). Enter Jesus Christ, who “sees you, knows, you, and cares deeply about what you’re going through….[H]e sees your whole person – including all your sufferings and struggles – and commits his faithful love and compassionate care to you still” (p. 17).
The second chapter revolves around the concept of identity. Chappell speaks from experience when she reflects, “When we’re given a psychiatric label it may feel like our entire world is being redefined” (p. 19). This second chapter explores how a Christian sufferer’s primary identity is secured in Christ and not rooted in their particular experience of suffering. Our Father’s love, promises, help, and sovereignty all apply to those who have been diagnosed, and the way He relates to the “disordered” is not in a different category from how He relates to the “ordered.”
Chappell’s third chapter seeks to establish realistic goals for those who have been diagnosed. Of chief importance is the need to trade the goal of “fix it” for the goal of “glorify him.” She realizes the alarm bells that might ring and quickly clarifies, “Do address your specific symptoms and struggles by seeking professional care and/or biblical counsel. Don’t pretend everything is OK when it isn’t” (p. 32). However, the quest for relief from trouble can often become the sun around which the rest of life orbits. “It [isn’t] wrong…to want relief from [a] burden, but it [can] morph into the all consuming desire of [your] heart” (p. 34). As human beings, ordering ourselves is often out of reach. However, glorifying God is always just a step away. Chappell wants to gently guide sufferers to pursue the Healer even more than they pursue healing.
The final chapter of this short work focuses on engaging God in the practical steps of personal growth. Growth and pruning go together as God reshapes us according to the image He wants us to grow into. Chappell is no idealist, recognizing that there are aspects of problems that we can identify and other aspects that we cannot identify. For an individual diagnosed with a mental disorder, God and His Word may bring great clarity to some symptoms and yet leave others more in the dark. He exhibits His sovereign care over even those things that are beyond our comprehension or clarity.
Help! I’ve Been Diagnosed with a Mental Disorder is a small little book, but it’s packed with hope. Chappell is a wise guide through a difficult topic—offering clear biblical instruction on considering what a diagnosis is and is not, how Christ is the ultimate identity of every believer, and how to wisely engage with God in the midst of suffering. If you’re looking for a bite-sized book to walk through with someone distressed by a diagnosis, this book will serve you well.
This article originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s blog and was republished here with permission.
Nate Brooks (Ph.D.) serves as the Assistant Professor of Christian Counseling at the Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. Nate, his wife Kate, and their children live on their mini-farm in Rock Hill, South Carolina, raise meat rabbits, and attend Lake Wylie Baptist Church. He’s also a regular contributor for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.