Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams, Mental Illness, and the Pulpit

Dead Poets Society

Each generation has the privilege of watching genius live among us. One of those bright lights for this generation was Robin Williams. News of his suicide was stunning. At the same time, it put a spotlight on mental illness and depression.

As someone who has dealt with severe anxiety in my own life, I know the challenges this can bring. Let me just say as a word of caution that pastors need to be careful when dismissing depression or anxiety as a sign of sin in one’s life. I’ve sat in church services and heard the pastor admonish his congregation to deal with the root of one’s depression–sin– rather than attempt to cover it up with medication. Not only does this heap guilt upon the person who struggles, but it shows a complete lack of compassion for hurting people, and an unbelievable ignorance on the part of the pastor.

The brain is far too complex to provide bullet-point suggestions for dealing with mental problems. Pastors need to be cautious. I believe the death of Robin Williams has ignited a much needed discussion on mental health, but no where is this discussion needed more than in the church.

Conservative churches have a checkered past when it comes to human psychology and the Bible. An argument can be made that some Christians attempt to deal with human problems from a psychological perspective rather than a theological. Sin is the root problem in mankind, and our redemption through Jesus Christ is the only “cure.”

Still, pursuing a healthy mind and body within the boundaries of our salvation is essential. Those who suggest any kind of human intervention to improve one’s health is sinful are wrong. Modern medicine has made great strides in curing many human diseases and ailments. Why would Christians run from this?

No responsible pastor would encourage his congregation to avoid medical treatment for a physical health issue, yet when it comes to mental health, far too many quickly run to the side of calling it sin and encouraging their congregation to deal with the sin rather than focus on the mental health issues.

Brothers, this is wrong.

O Captain! My Captain!


O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

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