The Faith Today Inter
Mark Vander Vennen (MV) is executive director of Shalem Mental Health Network, a faith-based network providing mental health support and resources to individuals, families and
communities. Vander Vennen spoke to senior
editor Karen Stiller (FT) about what mental
health means for a Christian, when to go for
therapy, and how Christians can stop saying inappropriate things to each other during
rough times. By Karen Stiller
FT: Mark, what is good mental health?
MV: My definition of good mental health is that we have
a coherent autobiographical narrative. By that I mean
we can access any time or event in our life for review
and conversation, even the hard times and the traumas,
without getting triggered by them. That says to me we’ve
been able to work through the difficulties in our life, and
they are not interfering with how we function now.
Good mental health is also very
relational. It’s about relationships.
It’s being able to have healthy ones
where we can be honest with each
other and express emotion safely. As
humans we are hardwired for relationships. We need them as much
as we need oxygen and food, it’s that
primal a need. That’s how God has
FT: When I think of relationships
and mental health, I think right away of the family as a
place where we are both hurt and healed.
MV: Families are definitely places of hurt and healing. If
we’ve grown up in a family where abuse has happened,
or we’ve been the victims or witnessed violence between
our mom and dad, then the family is not such a great
place of healing. Sometimes Christians and churches can
put undue pressure on people to reconcile in those cases
when that’s just not in the cards and only causes more
On the other hand, families are places of healing, and
that can happen even where those hard circumstances
have happened. We learn how to do relationships in
family. It’s how we learn how to deal with the other
gender in some ways.