The Unmentionable Brain


An article in Slate by Larry Lake got me wondering about what churches can do to become more helpful to people affected by mental illnesses and addictions. 

When Larry Lake’s wife Mary Beth had breast cancer, friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation appointments. They ate well: “chicken breasts encrusted with parmesan, covered safely in tin foil; pots of thick soup with hearty bread; bubbling pans of lasagna and macaroni and cheese.” Friends from church, work, and the neighborhood sent notes and cards, asked warmly how Mary Beth was doing, invited help: “If there’s anything I can do . . . ”

A decade later, the Lake’s 19-year-old daughter Maggie was arrested for drug possession, put on probation, and admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. They ate soup and grilled cheese at restaurants, but “no scalloped potatoes in tinfoil pans.” Maggie progressed well at a treatment center.

Few people asked how Maggie or the rest of the family were doing. No one brought over a meal. “Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable.”

One day, while Maggie was riding in the treatment center’s van, an oncoming car hit them head on. Jaws of life cut the van’s roof off and the battered occupants were extracted and rushed to hospitals. Upon release from the hospital, Maggie returned to the rehab center to complete her program.

“While Maggie was in the hospital, cards and letters filled our mailbox at home. For the two weeks that Maggie remained in rehab, . . . , offers of food crackled from our answering machine and scrolled out on email: ‘If there’s anything I can do ...’”

When friends, family members, or fellow church members are dealing with an addiction or mental illness, we can help. Bringing a meal or offering to provide transportation to one of the many appointments will remind your friend that she will not walk the journey alone. There’s much more you can do too; here are 10 good suggestions

How has your church ministered well to a family dealing with a mental health crisis?


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Hi Mark, 

Thanks for this! Per a reader who appreciated this post, the link "10 good suggestions" is no longer working. 



Good post Mark! The same thing happens to people with long term chronic illnesses like me. People drift away when there is no cure or improvement. You get to the point where you answer fine because that is the only question your asked and you get tired of saying your not! People don’t want to hear that and avoid you more! Thx Mark