The local church fails in assisting those with mental illness

Baylor University performed a study on how the churches help those who suffer from mental illness and found that they are not the most helpful places. PsychCentral notes:

churchBaylor University researchers built upon a 2008 study that found nearly a third of those who approached their local church in response to a personal or family member’s previously-diagnosed mental illness were told they really did not have mental illness.

In the new study, investigators discovered individuals experiencing depression and anxiety were dismissed the most often.

It seems that the local church has a long way to go in assisting those who suffer from mental illness. I am very thankful for CCEF that intends to “restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Here’s a blog post from Tim Lane, executive director of CCEF, in which he provides “four reasons to incorporate counseling into the local church.” And here’s another post by Mr. Lane on guidance for churches seeking outside help for counseling.

Advertisements

Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Emotional eating, Part 3

Now getting back to my current issue…

I am currently bouncing between 152 and 157 these days — a range I’m not particularly satisfied with. While my long-shot goal is 130-140 lbs, my current (and realistic) goal is 140-145 lbs. All I need is to fit in my pants. I don’t have money to buy new ones and the current ones I have in rotation are either uncomfortable or too dressy (read: formerly a corporate America drone).

Why am I having such a hard time? Well, other than the fact that I don’t get much cardio in, I’m also terrible about controlling my diet. (I’ve been playing the Wii religiously for about 30-60+ mins each day but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for the scale.)

dessertI indulge myself in anything I want: cupcakes; cake batter ice cream; pound cake topped with vanilla ice cream, strawberries laden in syrup, drizzled with caramel and decorated with whipped cream on the sides. I’m trying to teach myself discipline, but an undisciplined person trying to teach herself discipline is a recipe for failure.

But I’m trying.

I’ve been successful at times. For a while I was addicted to cinnamon buns sold at UPenn bookstore’s cafe. They were (and probably still are) absolutely delicious. Somehow — and I don’t know how I talked myself into this — I looked at them one day and said, “You know, those are disgusting. They’re topped with all that icing. That huge bun underneath the icing is nothing but carbs and does you no good. You don’t like it anymore. Don’t eat it.”

I haven’t touched a cinnamon bun since.

It’s strange how I’ve been able to use that psychology on some food items but not on others. Let me tell you, how I’d love to give up my addiction to cakes and cupcakes. I can’t eat chocolate but I find  plenty of other things to take its place: strawberry shortcakes, strawberry sundaes, the Strawberry-Banana Rendezvous with cake batter ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, carrot cakes, and Krispy Kreme donuts drenched in its original glaze icing. You can probably tell now why I can’t seem to dip below 150 lbs.

I want to stop. But each night, the ice cream place down the street beckons my name. Every morning, the bakery’s aroma wafts across the street and into the windows of my apartment, taunting me to defy the scale one more time for a temporary delight. There’s a diner that has dessert that is so good, I need to avoid eating there or else it becomes a requirement to indulge in after my entreé.

I’ve tried eating strawberries and grapes — natural sweets that should satisfy my sweet tooth. Grapes seem to make me hungrier and strawberries alone just don’t seem to cut it. I have tiny dessert cups used for individual shortcake servings but I’ve decided recently to cut them out to save calories.

I guess that it doesn’t help that I’m addicted to calorie-counting.

Goya riceI’m also trying to rid myself of my carb addiction. People from the Caribbean are notorious for their staples of rice and beans. As a product of Caribbean parents, I simply cannot live without rice. I can easily forgo meat if I can get my hands on some good rice and beans.

I don’t mind most veggies but trying to incorporate them into every single meal is incredibly difficult for me. And a house salad for lunch satisfies my hunger like a sip of water… that is to say, not at all.

So I’m currently faced with a dilemma. I need to stop eating so much and eat the right kind of food so I can lose weight. Because I lack discipline and feel hopeless and discouraged, I continue to overeat (American portions are larger than necessary) and indulge in dessert each night, continuing my slow trend toward weight gain.

My mental health suffered much less when I was 140 lbs. I looked good and felt good. There’s something to the saying that the physical contributes to the spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. Mind, body, and soul — they truly are all connected.

Emotional eating, Part 2

Seeing the scale at 180 scared me into action somehow. I thought of my father who died of a heart attack and remembered that I had a history of high cholesterol running through my family. I decided I had to do something so I didn’t drop dead of a myocardial infarction at 23.

  • gymBob and I joined a gym. We went 1-2 times a week for about 30 minutes, which — for a variety of reasons — was a disaster so this consistency didn’t last long. But it helped short-term. We mostly did circuit training and about 20 minutes of cardio. We also had a
    personal trainer for a while. It’s expensive and we haven’t been able to afford one since, but it was definitely worth the money. I dropped 5 lbs.
  • I stopped drinking soda. Everyone in my family will tell you that I was ADDICTED to soda. However, I knew the carbonation made me bloated.
    • I slowly weaned myself off of regular soda, forcing myself to like the significantly inferior diet products.
    • Crystal Light On-the-GoIn due time, I tired of diet drinks and became hooked on Crystal Light On-the-Go packets and forced myself to drink water regularly. This change resulted in an additional loss of 5 lbs. For whatever reason, the CL packets soon became too sweet for my sweet tooth and I stopped using them.
    • While I drink mostly water, I somehow picked up a daily habit of drinking coffee and lattés along the way. I usually make my own coffee but often order my lattés at coffee shops or cafés. I initially didn’t care about drinking whole milk but I soon learned that the calories can quickly add up between the vanilla shots and 16 oz. of milk.
    • Now, I ask for sugar-free vanilla lattés with skim milk. (These are called “skinny lattés” at Starbucks.) I always hated skim milk but forced myself to get used to it if I really wanted the pounds
      to continue to peel off. I still get my caffeine fix but for significantly less calories. Depending on the size I get, my latté can vary from 90-175 calories. Not bad when a regular vanilla latté is easily 300.
  • I began eating Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice for lunch. This is something that’s since dropped out of my diet but I need to reincorporate because it’s offered me the most results. I limited myself to LC or HC only and fought off any other hunger urges if I could. These pre-made frozen meals led to another 5-lb weight loss. (NOTE: The sodium counts on some of these meals are ridiculous, negating the healthy benefits of the low-calorie count, and causing increased hunger. Check the Nutritional Information for products that contain — on average — 600 mg or less of sodium. I’ve found that more than that can be counterproductive. Healthy Choice is pretty good about keeping the sodium milligrams around 500 or less.)
  • walkingI began commuting to the city and walked from the train station to work for a total of 20-30 minutes round-trip. I skipped walking during severe heatwaves and rain. The bus to the train station from my job wasn’t very reliable so I often ended up walking for at least 10 minutes during the day. Or more if I walked somewhere (usually by myself at a faster pace) for lunch. I lost 5 more pounds.
  • I ended up in the psych hospital. This is NOT recommended. I didn’t like much of the food so I hardly ate anything. I was also started on Effexor XR, of which weight loss was a side effect. I dropped a good 10 lbs in 7 days as a result of this. By this point, I was down to 150 — my “Freshman 15” weight.
  • Since my body was getting used to the 20-30 minute work walks, I began working out at the gym at least 2-3 days a week for at least 30 minutes. I attempted to do a minimum of 20 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of strength training or vice versa. I maintained a weight between 140-145 lbs for more than a year.

I haven’t been able to crack 139 on the scale for whatever reason and my goal is for a weight maintenance of 130-135 lbs. The BMI scale recommends that I weigh 110-125 lbs for my height.  Considering that my 26-year-old body is significantly different than my 16-year-old body, I’m not going to shoot for anything less than 130. I think to do so at this point in my life would be unrealistic. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be that skinny again anyway. 110 lbs on a 16-year-old looks vastly different on a 26-year-old  or a 36-year-old or a… you get the point. I’ve made 130 my minimum — a goal I’m sure I’ll be happy with if I’m able to attain it. Even if I bounced between 130 and 140 lbs, I wouldn’t mind as long as I didn’t regain my Freshman 15 weight. But I’m a work in progress.

Emotional eating: Part 1

I waver on whether I should attend the CCEF conference on Addiction in November. I have my own addiction that I’m dealing with and it’s ruining my mental health like nothing else right now.

Food.

Especially sweets.

donutsI’ve been keeping a record of everything I eat and while most of it is not terribly bad, it’s either the portion sizes that kill me or the delicious 5-scoop caramel strawberry brownie sundae from Friendly’s or a few helpings of those 200-calorie Krispy Kreme donuts. It also doesn’t help that I live across the street from a bakery that’s been named one of the best in the Philly area.

I grew up skinny and petite for the majority of my life and gained the usual “Freshman 15″ (or in my case 25) when I attended college at New York University. I did an incredible amount of walking each day — an average total of at least 75 minutes — and still somehow managed to gain weight. I didn’t occur to me at the time that 2 full plates of food from the cafeteria with several scoops of ice cream needed to be phased out of my diet.

By the time I attended a small Christian college in Florida, I was sitting at 150 lbs. (For a 5’4” female, this is considered slightly overweight.) During the nearly 2 years that I attended that college, I rarely ever rode in a car, which resulted in a drop of 20 lbs. Mind you, I still hadn’t changed my eating ways.

Fast-forward to August 2005, the month of my wedding. After a year of Paxil (3 months) and Lexapro (9 months), I hovered around 169-170 lbs. This was the largest I had ever been in my life. I never really realized that I’d gained all that weight. I was always pretty comfortable in my own skin. Sure, my jeans didn’t fit me as well as they used to but that was OK; it just gave me an excuse to buy new clothes!

Then, my family — pretty harsh critics, according to my husband — labeled me F-A-T. I never saw fat until they said it. The next time I looked in the mirror, I saw they were right. When I grinned, a double chin suddenly appeared. Saggy breasts hung in place of my once perky chest. Triple-fat rolls had now replaced the tummy that if I’d sucked it in just right, they’d look washboard. My lowest love handle drooped over my string bikini underwear like a fading flower.

Stretch marks also began to appear. They showed up looking like extremely red rashes. It was like watching my capillaries slowly attempting to burst out of the seams of my skin. The marks finally made permanent rest stops on my inner biceps and inner thighs.

A few months later, my max hit 180 lbs. To a lot of women, especially those who have been obese or overweight for a long time might pooh-pooh my weight problems. For a girl who — when her growth spurt had ended — fluctuated between 110 and 125 lbs, this was devastating. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn’t have been as bad if her family members hadn’t taken the liberty of pointing that out. Especially since she needed to be “skinny” for her wedding.

CCEF 2008 Annual Conference: The Addict In Us All

CCEF 2008 Annual Conference

I’ve previously mentioned that I receive (currently weekly) counseling at CCEF in Glenside, PA. They hold a conference every year on various topics. Last year’s subject was overcoming fear and my husband and I found it to be immensely helpful. This year’s topic focuses on addiction. I received a PR from them and am posting it below.


Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) Announces
2008 Annual Conference – The Addict in Us All

Addiction sounds ominous, and it is. Addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling tear families apart and ruin lives. But this conference is about more than the junkie scoring dope or the alcoholic hiding vodka around the house. Even the average person gets stuck in negative behavior patterns. Overeating, shopping, sexual temptation, people’s approval, even love…everyone struggles with something. And everyone faces moments of despair and thinking that change is not possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

CCEF: Ed Welch on Self-Injury

I’ve talked about how I get biweekly counseling from CCEF (Christian Counseling Education Foundation) in the past. I attended the foundation’s annual conference last year and have since received their bimonthly newsletters. This month, Ed Welch, licensed psychologist and author of more than more than six books and booklets (some of which are on my Helpful Reading list to the left), wrote an article about self-injury and the relief that comes from the pain. Obviously, he doesn’t advocate it but delves into the thought processes behind it and how to work on controlling the urge with God’s help. Here’s an excerpt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Assisting those who are suicidal

I attend biweekly counseling sessions at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). I've been going there for close to two years and had the privilege to attend their last conference that focused on overcoming fear. Since then, I've been receiving their perodical newsletters. David Powlison, one of the people who teach Biblical counseling at the foundation, wrote an article on Help for the Suicidal that I found helpful. It mainly speaks to those who are Christians and puts great emphasis on reliance on God. He doesn't say that God will suddenly "deliver" you from all of your troubles or take away your suicidal feelings, rather he identifies triggers that might bring about suicidal thinking such as personal failure, failed dreams, and false hopes. While suicidal behavior can stem from depression, much of the triggers lie in cognitive behavior.

Ed Welch, also a counselor at the foundation and an author on Biblical counseling, has an article on Loving Those Who Are Depressed (PDF). I enjoy Ed Welch's writing. He doesn't dole out pity on depressed people but at the same time, he's not heavy handed with his advice. He finds the right balance in dealing with the sensitive subject of depression even when it comes to the tricky area of the "chemical imbalance," normally a touchy subject among evangelicals. Then there's this random article on procrastination (PDF) that I have yet to read but I can always have time to procrastinate by reading an article on how not to procrastinate. 🙂

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Introduction

“Won’t you share a common disaster? Share with me a common disaster. Oh, a common disaster.” – Cowboy Junkies, “A Common Disaster”

SuicideI receive weekly counseling at CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, The foundation has an outreach program called Resources for Changing Lives that publishes educational material on different topics. One of the small booklets I purchased was “Suicide: Understanding and Intervening (SUI)” by Jeffrey S. Black. The booklet is a tad bigger than a 3 x 5 index card and consists of 31 pages. Of all the things I read in the book, the last paragraph stood out in my mind:

“In the years I have been involved in biblical counseling, I have not completely fathomed the hopelessness and despair in a believer that makes death more attractive than life. I pray that my inability is not merely a lack of empathy for someone who struggles. I hope that it is a vision for Christ and his kingdom that keeps the true ‘meaning’ of suicide out of my reach.”

While I understand Mr. Black has years of counseling those who struggle with suicidal ideations, I can’t help but wonder: What made him qualified to write this book?

In reading SUI, I felt as though the author took an objective stance in writing this. It came across as matter-of-factual rather than empathetic or sympathetic. I read the book – in all honesty – looking for answers and some kind of sympathy. I only received a slew of answers. The book should aptly be renamed “Suicide: A Factual Guide to Intervention.” No understanding required.

The book wasn’t bad; it just felt like the author wanted to keep his distance. “Don’t get too close to the reader lest you understand what a suicidal person is experiencing!” But the lack of emotion to relate to the reader detracted from many of the positive aspects of the book.

Out of five stars, I give the book three stars. Despite the absence of emotion, the book gives great bits of information I hope to share. As a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts on a recurring basis, the book was a bit of a disappointment. I know of other counselors at the foundation who could have written a more sympathetic book than Mr. Black. But he wrote it, so it’s time to delve into it.