Our Bucket List

The Bucket List tells the story of two men from completely different worlds who happened to be in same hospital room when they received news that each had a short time to live. As improbable as it was they went on a journey together (Edward was financially loaded). Not long after, Carter died. Edward spoke at his funeral.

“Carter and I saw the world together, which is amazing when you think that only three months ago we were complete strangers. I hope that it doesn’t sound selfish of me, but the last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life, and he knew it before I did. I’m deeply proud that this man found it worth his while to know me. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that we brought some joy to one another’s lives, so one day, when I go to some final resting place, if I happen to wake up next to a certain wall with a gate, I hope that Carter’s there to vouch for me and show me the ropes on the other side.”

Carter and Edward were different but the same. They “saw the world together.” They were peers providing each other support.
In the City of God St. Augustine noted that though men are different, suffering acts as an equalizer. And that is the starting point of peer support. We are equals not because of the size of our bank accounts (if we have a bank account), or because of our popularity or lack thereof, or because of our education. We are peers because of the mutual anguish and hunger for hope we share in common. Our currency is experience and we trade it freely.

Ben Overby

Offering training in Christ-centered peer support for both individuals and churches.


Research into the relationship between church and mental illness conducted by Matt Sanford at Baylor University revealed that 30% of respondents said “that they were made to feel their mental illness was a consequences of sin. About 30% indicated that when they approached the church for help their illness became worse,” faith was diminished in 15% and 10% lost faith entirely.

Lifeway Research conducted a survey that concluded  35% of Christians believe mental illness can be overcome with bible and prayer alone.

Amy Simpon’s research, as revealed in Troubled Minds (surveyed 500 churches) concludes that only 12.5 of respondents share their illness openly with the church and talk about it in a healthy way. 33.7 percent keep it private; 50% note that mental illness is mentioned only once a year from the pulpit; 38 percent of church leaders knew someone with a mental illness and ignored it; 30% of church leaders looked into potential demonic activity when made aware of mental illness in their congregation; 30% believe it is a behavior problem, etc.

Composed of humans, churches aren’t perfect. The question is, what do we do in response to our own imperfections?

Ben Overby

If people were to lie down head to foot how many would it take to circle the globe 100 times? Answer: about 350 million (if my math is right). That’s the number of people living with depression worldwide. The WHO says that depression is the number one cause of disability throughout the world.

Depression includes feelings of worthlessness. Can you relate? Here’s something I wrote in my journal a few years ago: “I’m a terrible person, with a terrible personality, and it is just not possible that anyone would want to be near me very long. What if I could change? Why can’t I just be like everyone else? I can’t escape me and I make me miserable.”

At times I’ve been overwhelmed by “hopelessness? ” “There I was on the ground early in the morning working out a plan for my suicide. I closed my eyes and prayed, but the words were dry bones rattling and falling out of my mouth, surrounding me with death. I had no more hope.”

We’ve all experienced our share of pain. Toothaches, backache, a headache, a stumped toe. Suffering is when the pain will not subside. When you shuffle around in the dark and stump your toe there’s a flash of pain that will probably cause you to hop around on one foot and speak in tongues. But shortly the throbbing dissipates.

Imagine you stump your toe and just as the pain subsides you kick the bedpost again. And again. And again. Pain is one thing, suffering is another. Suffering is pain that becomes chronic. For those of us occasionally suffering from depression we share the bedpost  in the dark. We stand around kicking the post. All we need is a little light so we can move on. The on/off switch isn’t far away, but we can’t reach it. We need a friend, a family member, a doctor…somebody, anybody to give us light. The night seems to last forever. It is hard not to give up. But we help each other endure. The thud, the screams–we say to each other, “been there, done that.” Four words. A spark of comfort. Misery may not love company, but it helps to squeeze another’s hand as we wait.

Ben Overby
Hopeful Living

Been There, Done That

Several years ago, while living in a community in Tennessee and serving as the full time minister of one of the local churches, I encountered several people in the community suffering from mental conditions ranging from schizophrenia, to OCD, to generalized anxiety. Burned into my brain is a thought that was mentioned during a Bible study. One of the participants asked if anyone thought that mental illness is what the Bible described as demon possession. At that point in my life, I knew almost nothing about mental illness. But demon possession? Give me a break.

The well-intentioned person who asked the question was married to Jeff who lived under the stigma of mental illness. His life was limited. The disease along with side effects of his medication left him disabled. Social Security disability was his only income. A lot of the time he was non-compliant, refusing to take his medication. Usually he looked wild, hair unkempt, clothes disheveled. He showed little emotion—I never heard him laugh. People, for the most part, seemed not to know what to do with him, how to be with him, communicate and befriend him. That included me. I was in the dark as much as anyone else.

At one point he needed surgery to repair a problem with his bowels. After the surgery he was left with his son to recuperate. His son lived in a small house, cluttered and dirty. I checked in on Jeff, finding him stretched out on a recliner, moaning, holding his belly. Across the room his son held a fist full of cards, playing poker with his friends, barely noticing that I’d come in. The room was thick with cigarette smoke and looked like the last place anyone should be recovering from a major surgery. In short, Jeff wasn’t being cared for, and was easily ignored because he didn’t know how to get help for himself.

My wife and I decided to take him home with us. Our boys doubled-up in one of the rooms, leaving Jeff a place to rest.  When it was time for bed I started to worry. The stigma of mental illness colored my thinking. I made sure our boys locked their bedroom doors when going to bed. I turned the lock on our bedroom door as well. After all, who could predict what a person with a serious mental illness might do, right? Maybe he’d pull himself into the kitchen, grab a knife and kill us all for no reason. Such was my complete ignorance, fed by cultural portrayals both in cinema and news reports.

The next day I took him to the hospital in hopes that they’d care for him. They refused to admit him. Jeff was easy to turn away, after all who was going to advocate for him?

In a spiritual sense we did nothing to help Jeff recover from his mental illness. In time he disappeared somewhere into the community, just an afterthought. And that was the best we knew to do. Jeff was a victim of mental health stigma. And there was no excuse for the collective ignorance of the congregation. I would be surprised if anyone in the community thought it would be possible for Jeff to recover and get a life of his choosing. With no support he remained on a social level below the surface, alone, desperate, afraid, and worst of all—unloved in any practical way. We let him down.

I spent several years in Bible college and don’t recall the subject of mental illness being discussed–ever. Before I stepped away from full-time ministry, I had preached over 1,000 sermons, never taking on the subject of mental illness. I’m 51 years old and never heard a sermon aimed at support for people living with bipolar or anxiety disorders, major depression, eating disorders, or any of the other mental illnesses. Years ago I had a bias toward mental illness and medication stemming from grandfathers struggle with manic depression and the archaic medications he was prescribed. Mental illness was part of a shadowy world, like the bedroom he spent most of his time in.

If I could turn back the clock my relationship with Jeff would be completely different. Since then I’ve been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and finally bipolar disorder type 1. Now I see what Jeff must have seen, how abandoned he must have felt, how isolated he was in a world full of people who looked through him not at him.

Coming to grips with my symptoms and getting a diagnosis (and several additional opinions) rendered me a peer in relation to Jeff. After my long battle and recovery I would now be in a position to say to Jeff, “been there, done that.” That’s a tired cliché but is music to the ears of someone who is in pain, especially anyone stigmatized and feeling hopeless.

I don’t know what’s happened to Jeff since the time we moved nearly 15 years ago. I don’t want others to experience the emotional and mental anguish he must have felt. And there’s no reason anyone should feel abandoned, especially in the church; with an intentional, church sponsored ministry or individual effort, our friends and neighbors can be invited out of the shadows and into the light where they belong.

Loneliness, a sense of burden, an elevated feeling of guilt and shame, fear, isolation, all contribute to the risk of suicide. I wonder if Jeff ever just wanted to check out. It’s is a common refrain for those of us tortured by unrelenting symptoms. Yet, personal contact can have a restorative effect. That’s why suicide hotlines are so effective.Motivated by the life of Jesus, following him, we can offer more than a hotline; we can throw out a lifeline of peer relationship. When I was a kid in church we used to sing, “rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful Jesus will save.”  Rescuing the perishing takes on new meaning in consideration of the fact that those under emotional distress are most at risk for suicide. In fact 50% percent of people living with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once. Ten percent are successful carry out the act.

Living with the disorder, I never forget those figures.

And I’ll never forget Jeff.

Been there, done that.

Ben Overby




From a Christian perspective, and from the point of view of someone with a mental illness (bipolar disorder), I’m disappointed by the number of Christians who actually believe that with a little more Bible study and prayer, mental illness can be healed. I’ve heard it dozens of times.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the equivalent of Jesus responding to lepers by giving them a piece of the Isaiah scroll and telling them to read it in order to be healed. Jesus didn’t hand out copies of the Psalms or Exodus in order to heal the blind, paralyzed, deaf and dying. Instant healing required a miracle not a devotional moment.

To suggest reading the Bible is enough indicates many don’t take mental illness seriously as a disease. Until attitudes change, people suffering with mental illness will continue to hide behind a plastic exterior or avoid church altogether.

(See Amy Simpson–Troubled Minds, and research available at lifeway.com; & baylor university, among others)

Ben Overby


Is Anyone Normal?

A lot of the stigma that accompanies mental illness derives from what culture describes as normal. Someone once remarked that if everyone is a Christian almost no one is. If a term like abnormal is watered down to the point that it describes almost everyone, it describes no one.

Did you know that there are 300 diagnosable mental illnesses described by the DSM IV? Are any of us normal? Jordan Smoller, author of The Other Side of Normal, describes the difference between normal and abnormal as the difference between night and day.

We all know the difference but Smoller asks where we draw the line between the two. He writes, “When exactly does day become night? We might decide to draw the line at sunset—a specific moment in time we’ve constructed to separate the two. But that’s somewhat arbitrary.” The terms day and night aren’t preloaded with stigma so debating the point at which one begins and the other ends is harmless.

But as Smoller points out, the line between normal and abnormal is also arbitrary. It is a judgment call and to confuse matters even more, it changes from culture to culture. I don’t believe the terms normal and abnormal mean anything as a description of mental health. I recommend that you banish the words from your vocabulary in the context of supporting the healing of people suffering from emotional or mental challenges. The terms unnecessarily fuel stigma.

Ben Overby

Recently Kim and I were driving into Atlanta from Nashville. Thousands of cars had been zooming orderly on I-75 until one had a blowout. The driver stopped in the middle lane, was hit by another car, and in an instant, several cars scattered across the highway. It took only a fraction of a second to go from order to disorder. Traffic came to a complete stop. We couldn’t see what was going on. We had no idea when traffic would return to normal.

Mental illness is no different. A crash can happen because of brain chemicals, stress, or dysregulation stemming from an injury or genetics. When that happens, thoughts and feelings stop their regular function. In order to bring about order, an intervention is often required, such as medication, counseling, the support of a loved one, much prayer and dependence on God’s grace. At some point the path is cleared, order is restored, the traffic flows.

Keep that in mind when thinking about a mental disorder. It isn’t something exotic or mysterious. Sometimes the person living with the disease is cruising, at other times spinning out of control and crashing.  Cruising and crashing are states of being—there are lots of states that occur in between.

Part of what we do is support individuals in learning to recognize otherwise unnoticed triggers. The traffic disorder was triggered by the blowout of a tire. The driver had to make a snap decision—cross several lanes of busy traffic in order to get to the shoulder or stop in the middle of the road. The decision to stop in the center of the interstate proved tragic. We can support individuals as they learn to not only recognize the triggers but effectively develop a plan of action before a blowout occurs. And episode of disorder can be avoided by careful, thought out preparation.

When the words are out-of-order the makes no sense sentence.  Let me try that again. When the words are out-of-order the sentence makes no sense. To communicate words must be ordered in a particular way.

Again, there’s no mystery here. To support an individual, we just need to know the meaning the person ascribes to their life, what they’re trying to say with their existence, what vision they have for their life. If words are out of order—if treatment is avoided, or the person is isolating, or fear is disrupting their attempt to get the life they want, then we simply support whatever it takes to restore order, to get the words where they are supposed to be so that the person becomes what he or she intends to become.

Ben Overby


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