Dylan Bennett recently was arrested for the murder of his parents, former NFL player Barry Bennett and his wife, Carol. Last December, Barry told the Todd County Sheriff’s Office that Dylan had expressed thoughts about killing his parents while he was in a mental health treatment facility.
The problem of mental illness is escalating. Research shows that one in five people will face some sort of mental illness or brain disease in their lifetime, one in fourteen live with major depression and one in six with an anxiety disorder. It is a potential cause blamed for Connor Betts’ murderous rampage in Dayton, Ohio, as he had posted on his Twitter bio that he was going to hell and not coming back. Who in his “right mind” would brag about such a claim?
Last year I wrote about Agnes, a mentally ill woman I tried to help in Jacksonville, Florida. She knew enough to show up at the homeless shelter to eat but not enough to bathe, change her clothes or make sense when she spoke. The shelter knew her well, but the supervisor told me that there are some people who are “too far gone” to accept the kind of help to get them off the streets. Agnes is one of them.
An article written by Kimberly Amadeo entitled “Deinstitutionalization, Its Causes, Effects, Pros and Cons” claims that because of the closings of state hospitals, 2.2 million severely mentally ill patients receive no psychiatric treatment. Nearly 200,000 of those who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are homeless, and more than 300,00 are in jails and prisons. Others like Dylan Bennett are released too soon or not adequately treated.
I know two families who have attempted to have their sons committed to institutions but were told that until they were an actual threat, nothing could be done. Psychiatric hospitalizations ended after three days, and judges, by law, could not order their adult children to stay in treatment, even though research indicates that a combination of that and medication has the greatest chance of helping those in need.
The Church has remained silent on the subject, even though our pews are filled with individuals that no pot luck or mission statement can fix, and counseling them to “pray harder” or “have more faith” only heaps condemnation on their emotionally-damaged spirits. For years, mental illness was blamed on sin, but we now know that is not typically the case. Granted, there is drug-induced mental illness, but much is caused by the interconnections of environment, genetics and brain abnormalities. The real tragedy is that many sufferers fail to reach out because they feel judged and rejected. Where is the Church?
I recently read a sermon series by Rev. Tim Ahrens of the First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, entitled “Mental Illness: The Journey In, The Journey Out” which, when delivered, filled the pews to overflowing. He asked that we speak to these people, not as “crazies,” but as people with a mental challenge. “Just as I don’t say about a person with MS or cancer that they ARE ‘MS’ or call them ‘that cancer person,’ so I should not label someone as schizophrenic or depressed. Always a person ﬁrst. Always!”
The apostle Paul gave us advice on how we can reach out to those suffering around us. He writes of his own mysterious illness (guesses range from his eyesight to depression): “Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” (Galatians 4:14)
May we come alongside these hurting individuals and be that welcoming angel.
Christians have a responsibility to care for the vulnerable and not shun those who suffer. They need us to open our eyes and fight for change. They need our presence. They need our prayers. They need our grace.