The relationship between mental health and religion is very delicate and can easily cause discord among people. Discussing the connection of faith with mental illness in a room can be controversial as both topics are extremely sensitive and can hurt anybody’s feelings. But Dr. McPherson is one person who boldly puts forward her perspective based on experience and evidence-based research and draws a line of clear differentiation between the two.
It is important to understand that “religion” represents a list of rules, do’s, and don’ts for discussing the differences. Still, this factor makes up parts of the self and cannot be ignored or misunderstood when dealing with self, others, and mental health regarding spirituality.
‘For I Will Restore Health To You And Heal You of Your Wounds’ Jeremiah 30:17
Dr. Jonell L McPherson is locally and internationally recognized for advocating Mental Health awareness. She is known for her different and direct approaches to tackle mental health issues. She has been in this field for 19+ years and clearly understands the dynamics of the hot and cold relations of both; religion and mental health.
Jonell has graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a double major degree in Sociology and Psychology in Women Studies at S.U.N.Y. Geneseo. In addition to that, she obtained her Doctorate in Education (Ed.D) degree in the C.A.C.R.E.P. counseling program of Counselor of Education and Supervision (C.E.S.) from Argosy University in Washington, D.C. She is an immensely knowledgeable and talented personality. She has spent a huge amount of her life learning and apprehending a human brain and its workings and how it copes with stress, depression, and anxiety.
Although a believer of the Higher Power and having a strong Christian background, Dr. McPherson believes that in treating one with mental/behavioral limitations, it is important to assess and treat one’s religious outlook and spiritual look. Spirituality is a core component and element of a human being’s total self. All health care professionals, especially mental health clinicians, should broach and understand this with their clients and empower their decision-making to a place of meditation and oneness with mind, body, and spirit.
Evidence-based research reveals that understanding attitudes and barriers that prevent help-seeking mental/behavioral services, and it is important to understand the role of stigmatization and discrimination.
People tend to seek mental/behavioral health services within the church community because of the stigma attached to these services. Many people are ill-informed. They fail to realize that just as how the heart, kidneys, liver & lungs malfunction, the brain can also malfunction & most importantly, we all have a brain that is vital for optimum functioning. Also, for persons to function, the four factors must be balanced. Physical, mental, social & spiritual.
She has witnessed many individuals turn to their church and their faith for spiritual guidance in times of emotional distress. But return even more depressed and disappointed. Many Christians and other believers have a unique and personal reason for not visiting or seeking support from their loved ones, pastors, or spiritually woke friends.
Mental health is stigmatized in many ways; one of them is that ‘mental illness is considered a sign of weakness.’ People are unable to apprehend the clinical condition a person suffers from. They perceive mental illness as a character weakness or a personal flaw caused by either lack of self-discipline or determination. The lack of empathy in people disenchants the ones suffering, adds to their sufferings, and makes them suffer from inferior complexity.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is that mental illness cannot be ‘prayed away.’ Just like one cannot give away their cancer, diabetes, or any other health issues to God, mental illness also needs to be treated in the same way. Utilizing her vast knowledge, research, and expertise, she has established a website named ‘Wellness Transformation Center, L.L.C.’
Transforming the Way People Perceive Mental Health
The objective of her website is to educate and familiarize people with life skills training. Training in life skills will help people develop thinking, behavioral, and emotional skills as a proposed way of life. Through mindful and excellent care, the W.T.C. website aims to build individuals and systems with a purposed mission to Think Well! Do Well! and Live Free from perceived stressors: worry, doubt, fear, guilt, anxieties.
She aims to aid people suffering from mental/behavioral limitations using psychoeducational techniques. Expressing their troublesome feelings with a pastor or in a church with an audience is a predicament for those suffering from mental/behavioral challenges. There is an intersectionality of stigmatic and discriminatory reasons that prevent people from help-seeking mental/behavioral health services. In the church community, it will appear that mainly the fear for many stems from shame, guilt, and being judged and mistreated that stops an individual from seeking help or treatment. To sort this problem, Dr. McPherson has developed a unique method of empowering and transforming how people think, behave, and live. She believes in teaching cognitive, behavioral, and emotional life skills as a prerequisite to and foundational tools from a proactive leadership standpoint. Mastering and knowing how to apply essential life skills like effective communication, conflict resolution, setting healthy boundaries, shifting perspectives, levels of consciousness, etc., will improve how people care for themselves and others.
It is extremely painful and heartbreaking for a believer to hear that mental illness is God’s method of testing their faith. Or mental disorders are punishments for their sins. These reasons degrade a person and lower their self-esteem, which triggers their depression or other mental illness.
In her recent case study, Dr. McPherson learned the various ways mental illness is stigmatized in the churches. She was able to gather some of the responses she received while gathering material for her research. It was revealed that people did not seek help because they were trying to protect their image and shame, feared stereotypes that surrounded mental/behavioral health, expensive services, unaware mental health help, lack of health professionals, lack of confidentiality and professionalism amongst church people.
Another factor that she examined while studying the church’s behavior was a sense of ‘pride’ that held them back from seeking help. Many people thought that because of their relationship with God, they don’t need anything or anyone but Jesus, and if Jesus can’t fix it, maybe this is their cross to bear. They also believed that ‘God Can Fix Anything,’ which is not true in all the cases.
Dr. McPherson summarized her entire case study by saying;
“Our thoughts affect our feelings; our feelings dictate our behavior.”
According to her, mind, behavior, and spirit are the only things that affect a person’s mental health. Once one learns how to overcome their thoughts and fears, there is nothing in the world that can stop them from achieving what they want in life—subsequently having better mental health.
Dr. McPherson’s book ‘The Shift In Perspective‘ has a log of her experiences and expertise in transforming mental wellness by thinking well, doing well, and living free from ‘perceived’ fears, anxieties, and stressors. Her pragmatic solutions, teachings, and approach to treating mental illness are life-saving skills for people seeking a new outlook in solution, focusing on themselves and solving their perceived problems. Insert supporting quote for the end.