The Dark Night verses Mental Illness

You know the phrase all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. This is kind of how I view the dark night of the soul verses mental illness. Or another analogy would be all coins have 2 sides.

The Dark Night of the soul was a poem written in the 1500’s about a man’s journey through the darkness in his soul. It is a depiction of his spiritual journey. When reading this poem as well as other works regarding the spiritual darkness people experience throughout their lives I have had questions. Many questions. Because of my training as a doctor I see many elements of mental illness within these people stories and writings. When I evaluate my own life and journey there where many times I thought what I was experiencing was a spiritual darkness. I now know that what I was experiencing was depression.

So which is it? Is it a spiritual thing or is it a physical illness? My personal view given my medical training, own journey and personal study is that few things are either or. Rather most things are a little of both. So what do we do about this?

My personal view is that we should be addressing both sides of the coin. For if you only address one side you are missing a gigantic component. Possibly even harming someone.

In today’s society we often like to just throw pills at people and say, “here is a magic pill that will make all your problem go away.” That is also what we want. Something to just make it go away. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the role of medication in the treatment of mental illness. First and foremost it is not a magic pill. Medications can help. They can take the edge off and better facilitate making counseling and pastoral care more effective. They can sometimes help to prevent recurrence of the episode especially in someone who has repeated episodes but it is not magic.

It also depends on what the mental illness is. For there are different kinds and some are more responsive to medications than others. God can use mental illness to bring people closer to him. He can use it to bring people greater understanding of who he is but it is not purely a spiritual thing. There is a very real physical component in the brain that often needs professional psychotherapy and possibly medications. These things did not exist in biblical times our in the 1500’s when the Dark Night of the Soul was written. But they do exist today. The church needs to do a better job of educating and pointing people in both directions so that both sides of the coin are being addressed.

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