Diagnosis: Mental Illness

Jim Still-Pepper

If you pay attention to the person behind the illness, you will discover that he or she is much more important than the diagnosis.

Vinny has become impossible. He is angry and rude. He doesn’t spend time with his friends. At home, he locks himself in his room. Vinny used to be a nice kid. Now no one can stand to be around him. His family and friends don’t know what to do.

  • How would you feel about Vinny if he were your friend? your brother?
  • How would you feel about Vinny if he were recently diagnosed with cancer? with a mental illness?

Too often we think that a person who is mentally ill is at fault for his or her illness and that mental illness is the result of bad choices. However, biological or medical conditions often cause mental illness—regardless of a person’s choices. A disease is not a diagnosis of failure, personal weakness, or sin. The person who is mentally ill is not at fault.

Being stereotyped is perhaps the worst problem that persons with mental illness have to face. But if you pay attention to the person behind the illness, you will discover that he or she is much more important than the diagnosis.


Facts about Mental Illness in America*

  • An estimated 22.1% of Americans ages 18 and older (about 1 in 5 adults) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
  • Approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
  • Between 500,000 and one million young people aged 15 to 24 attempt suicide each year.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.


What to Do

If you know people who are mentally ill, you need to “mind less” about their diagnoses and “mind more” about them as persons.

  • Make your relationship more important than their diagnoses.
  • Involve yourself in their lives. Many people pull away from the mentally ill.
  • Never judge.
  • Don’t analyze.
  • Love because God loves.
  • Express your feelings. People who are mentally ill know that you probably have mixed feelings about them.
  • Stand up for your rights. If they are mistreating you, say so.
  • Show others, by your example, how to treat someone with a mental illness.


If you have a diagnosed mental illness, here are some ideas about making things better for yourself:

  • Don’t use your diagnosis as an excuse.
  • Involve yourself in treatment. Seek and follow the advice of professionals.
  • Accept your diagnosis and remember that God is with you (see Romans 8:35–39).
  • Give yourself credit for the good you do. You are bigger than your diagnosis!
  • Never give up. Your illness could last a lifetime, but you can still enjoy life! If you are thinking of suicide, talk to everyone who will listen.
  • Offer to help others who are less fortunate than you are.
  • Stay connected to other people. Some will avoid you because of your illness; others are waiting to be your true friends.
  • In the hardest times, reach out.
  • Stay connected with God. God knows you and loves you! God may use your illness for God’s glory.



Read Psalm 139:1-18. God created you. God knew who you were going to be. How can this be of comfort to you or to someone you know who has a mental illness?

Mental Illness Is Not

  • a diagnosis of failure
  • a curse, but a course in life
  • a sign of personal weakness
  • a sin

Check Out the Following Websites and Helplines

Information on Various Mental Illnesses:


  • NAMI Information HelpLine (Monday-Friday, 10 am-6 pm ET) — 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264) or text NAMI to 741741
  • Girls and Boys Town National Hotline — 1-800-448-3000 or text TEEN to 839863


*Statistics taken from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Center for Children in Poverty, and the MedicineNet websites.

Jim Still-Pepper is from Zanesville, Ohio.

—from Devo’Zine (January/February 2002). Copyright © 2001 by The Upper Room. Allrights reserved.

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