"A gateway drug to the devil"

A news story making the rounds in California in recent weeks points out the potential for pastors and church leaders to cause harm through uninformed and untruthful statements regarding mental illness and dramatizes how much work still needs to be done to better educate the Christian community about mental health-related topics.

From Fox News:

A bipolar California kindergarten teacher — who was told by a pastor her medicine was a “gateway drug to the devil” — has been missing since she got into a car accident Monday.

Jamie Tull hasn’t been heard from since shortly after she crashed. Tull’s husband, Apollo Tull, told The Modesto Bee his wife called him in tears, saying “I’m not going to see you again.” Soon afterwards, Jamie drove off the road, into fences and a cattle gate. After the crash she told her husband where she was.

Apollo called 911 and drove to the scene. When he arrived, he found police, but no sign of his wife.

Jamie’s father was interviewed by a reporter from KTXL-TV in Sacramento:

According to Devenport-Tull’s father, his daughter has bipolar disorder. He says she has not taken her medication for about six months because a pastor and his wife told her that pills lead to demons.

Her father also told FOX40 that Devenport-Tull was taken against her will about 10 years ago in Southern California. Three years after she had returned she was diagnosed as bipolar, prescribed medication and was considered high functioning until she stopped taking her medication.

Fortunately, Jamie’s story had a happy ending:

The former Modesto school teacher who went missing nearly three weeks ago in Merced County was found alive Friday morning, authorities said.

Jamie Tull, 33, was discovered in a field about a half-mile east of where she crashed her vehicle off East Childs Avenue just past South Cunningham Road, according to Merced County Sheriff’s Department officials.

According to the Modesto Bee, Jamie is very fortunate to have been discovered by authorities when she was:

Warnke said Tull told investigators Friday that she didn’t want to be found. She told investigators she hid in a water tank for many days. She asked investigators to leave her some food and water and to “go away,” Warnke said.

He said Tull had good vital signs but suffered from extreme exhaustion and sunburn. She was transported to the burn unit at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

Investigators said she had been out wandering when searchers found her near a fence. Her personal belongings were discovered near the water tank, which led to a cattle trough.

During the 17 days since she went missing, Tull only ate two grasshoppers and a fly, she told investigators.

A young wife and teacher nearly ends up dead after following the counsel of a pastor and his wife to stop taking psychiatric medications that were helping her to lead a productive life. This is spiritual abuse. If a cult leader suggested such a course of action, I have little doubt law enforcement officials would be launching an investigation. With that said, how can God use an incident like this one for good?

Respected Christian leaders need to call out false and misleading statements regarding mental illness made by those who claim to represent the church. Such statements undermine the mission of all churches that seek to help men and women to experience truth. One church in Modesto where Jamie’s husband previously served on staff felt the need to issue a public statement denying that no member of their pastoral staff had ever had any contact with Jamie in a counseling setting. Such misinformation also reinforces negative perceptions regarding the church and mental illness among persons who don’t regularly attend worship services.

Christians with a passion for mental health inclusion might help church leaders become better educated about mental illness by directing them to reputable individuals and organizations offering high-quality training and resources. In our upcoming book on mental health inclusion ministry, I recommend the Mental Health 101 course offered to church leaders by Mental Health Grace Alliance. Our ministry team has been hard at work on producing videos for a course for churches on how to implement a comprehensive mental health inclusion ministry. We hope to begin releasing the videos through our Facebook page in the fall.

I’d encourage our readers to pray for Jamie to experience a full recovery and for their family to experience God’s presence, healing and comfort during this time. I’d also encourage our readers to pray that God would direct them to opportunities for share Christ’s love with individuals and families impacted by mental illness within their communities. Enough is enough.

Photo credits: @KayRecede from Fox40 Sacramento


Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHDanxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teenspediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.