News - Entering the Whirlwind--Alumnus Shows How Faith Communities Can Help the Mentally Ill
Entering the Whirlwind--Alumnus Shows How Faith Communities Can Help the Mentally Illby Rachel Heston-Davis
In a world increasingly aware of emotional disorders, Bryan Langdoc ’01 (pictured left with his family) believes the church should offer a message of “radical hospitality” to sufferers. This means showing up, helping out, and staying in relationship with those who struggle through mental illness—even if doing so brings discomfort.
The belief explains why Langdoc, the senior pastor of Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church in Greencastle, IN, reacted with compassion rather than condemnation when an 18-year-old in his community vandalized the church and threatened to commit a mass shooting. The teenager’s story, including a blurb on Langdoc’s involvement, was featured in the March 2016 issue of Esquire magazine.
Don’t Hit Back
The scenario began one morning last summer, when Langdoc received a text alerting him that someone had spray-painted anti-religious messages on several churches including his. The vandalism in ugly black letters upset many in the Greencastle community. Langdoc hoped it was no more than a prank.
Police found and questioned the culprit: an 18-year-old young man named Shea with a history of behavior problems who had recently threatened to commit mass shootings. Two weeks after the vandalism, when Shea had left the community to stay with his brother for a time, police searched his confiscated phone and allegedly found child pornography. They issued an arrest warrant but Shea was no longer in town. The community caught wind; rumors spread that Shea was a dangerous man on the loose, and news crews rolled in, treating the situation of the missing teen like a manhunt.
"It was incredibly sensationalized," Langdoc remembers. "People were just going crazy, and nobody knew where he was."
Langdoc tried not to feed the hype. When reporters asked for a statement about his defaced church, Langdoc refused to hit back at Shea with angry words. Instead, he expressed compassion for Shea’s hurting family.
A Family In Pain
His hunch about their pain was right. As reported in Esquire, Shea’s parents, Gary and Shelly, had put their son through a battery of evaluations since childhood to address his extreme anger and irrational behavior. Doctors arrived at the dual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD).
Shea's family had trouble securing a correct diagnosis and appropriate support for Shea at school. They even had trouble securing psychiatric help for Shea when his teen behavior turned disturbing. Mental health facilities and emergency rooms were swamped with cases worse than Shea’s, so his downward spiral continued until he crossed paths with the law.
Lean In To Discomfort
Shea's mother Shelly saw Langdoc’s compassionate comment on the news and reached out to the stranger for support.
"I basically volunteered to get myself in as deep as I needed [to help them],” Langdoc says. He drove Shea to the police department where Shea turned himself in. He stayed in contact with the family. He even attended Shea’s hearings regarding the child pornography charges.
This act of showing up, of being present, is one of the most important steps anyone can take to help the mentally ill, says Langdoc. It’s hard to maintain connections with friends when mental illness makes life uncomfortable or unpredictable.
To loved ones, pastors or fellow Christians wanting to help a sufferer, Langdoc says, “You have to just lean in.”
“I think the hope we have is in relationship and in presence with each other. It’s so much more about just being quiet and being with people than it is about trying to offer some kind of wisdom.”
Langdoc has also gained a healthy respect for trained therapists and psychiatrists. Pastors see their fair share of people in crisis; Langdoc recommends that pastors refer the mentally ill to a trained health professional.
Walking Through Life With A Limp
Langdoc’s own brush with a panic disorder in 2010 opened his eyes to the world of mental illness. It fostered compassion and perspective to realize that “at any point your life can totally change when your brain stops working the right way.”
When he opened up about his struggles, the number of people who shared their own secret journey with mental illness shocked him.
“It’s crazy to call it a gift,” he says, but, “if I hadn’t gone through that experience, I maybe wouldn’t know that many of the congregation [at Gobin Memorial] have similar struggles.”
He’s also learned that you can “walk through life with a limp.” God doesn’t heal every wound overnight, but those with emotional and mental disturbances can move forward with community support in spite of the hurt.
Langdoc hopes this for Shea’s family. Far from resenting the kid who spray-painted “Die with your false God” on a church, Langdoc sees Shea and his parents as victims of a world that doesn’t fully understand the complexities of an emotional whirlwind.
To learn more about mental illness visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) web site.
For information on mental illness specifically within a college setting, check out the Papyrus' overview: One In Four: An Inside Look at Mental Illness
Are you or someone you know interested in studying psychology? Learn about GC's psychology program.
Greenville College's bachelor of science in health psychology was ranked among the Best Online Psychology Degrees for 2015 by the Affordable Colleges Foundation. Read more about the program here.