Building bridges of understanding: Author pens second book on mental illness

Author Tony Roberts enjoys a laugh at his desk with his Labrador, Briley. Submitted photo

As a former Presbyterian minister, Columbus resident Tony Roberts understands that most of the Christian life is experienced as a process of faith.

As a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Roberts understands that claiming complete psychological or spiritual victory over such a condition is risky.

“I know that most people’s hearts are in the right place, but there are those in the mental health field who want to claim a kind of victory over mental illness,” Roberts said. “To me, that’s a dangerous message.

“When you do that, first of all you’re drawing attention to yourself rather than God. But you also may be indirectly teaching people to go off their medicine, and that’s a dangerous thing.”

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The 56-year-old Roberts stands at once as a person of both faith and reason. He has effectively bridged both worlds since 2014, when his first book, “Delight In Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission,” introduced him to church and mainstream audiences nationwide and beyond.

His second book,”When Despair Meets Delight: Stories to Cultivate Hope For Those Battling Mental Illness,” will be released virtually via an event Sept. 17 through the Bartholomew County Public Library in downtown Columbus. This time, his primary audience is ministry leaders working to help Christians with mental illness.

“My aim in what I write is not so much to hand someone with a troubled mind an atlas, as to walk alongside them on their journey, offering assurance each step of the way that they are not alone,” Roberts said.

Walking alongside people amid their challenges is what Roberts did as a pastor before his condition eventually ended that calling and career.

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which sufferers experience episodes of an elevated or agitated mood known as mania, alternating with episodes of depression. It gained significant worldwide attention most recently, especially among people of faith, when singer and newly outspoken Christian Kanye West gave a political speech that seemed derailed with confusion. Later, his spouse asked for understanding.

Roberts understands confusion. A manic episode in 2007 nearly ended in Roberts’ death before a family member dialed 911.

He has labeled the first book his “therapeutic process.” As much as that work educated Christians among several congregations locally, Roberts also discovered that considerable misunderstanding exists about mental illness.

“I’ve felt a real sense of urgency that we need to make an effort to build that bridge of understanding (between the mentally ill and faith leaders),” Roberts said.

He still recalls the day in 2014 that prominent and nationally known Christian pastor and author Rick Warren’s son Matthew, 27, committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness, including severe depression.

“I was really impacted by that,” Roberts said. “I started reading news reports, both from the conservative press and the liberal press. The conservative press basically said it happened because Rick Warren’s theology was too watered down, so maybe God was getting back at him. The liberal side was saying that his son was struggling with issues of sexuality, and the Warrens wouldn’t accept that. All of that sinful speculation was just atrocious.”

It helps explain why Roberts continues to share his own psychological and emotional struggles with a trusting vulnerability that seems to elicit compassionate outreach instead of harsh judgment and wild theorizing.

The Rev. Mark Teike serves as senior pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus, where Roberts has worked part-time with staff to better minister to families facing mental illness. Teike wrote the foreword in Roberts’ new release.

“Tony knows the ups and downs, the times of mania and depression and cycling between the two, the longing to live for Christ and the voice that sometimes tells him he would be better off dead,” Teike wrote in part. “He writes as one who has been a patient in the psych unit of less than pleasant hospitals and one who holds a seminary degree, who has stood in the pulpit and sat by the bedside of those who are suffering.”

Amy Simpson, author of “Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission,” sees Roberts as a symbol of hope amid loss.

“In a voice that represents so many other untold stories, Tony Roberts bravely and beautifully tells of losing and finding and discovering that for all mental illness will take from us, it cannot conquer the God who gives us life and fills it with purpose,” Simpson said in a testimonial for Roberts’ new work.

Roberts himself never submits to self-aggrandizing superlatives. He is much more comfortable discussing his life’s simple pleasures, ranging from the love of wife Susan to the unbridled joy of his pet Labrador, Briley.

In a world of insecure writers often yearning to be seen as complex thinkers, Tony Roberts remains a man tackling a complex topic with a simple mission and motto.

“I am a man with an unquiet mind,” he often has said, “who delights in the One who delights in me.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the book” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: “When Despair Meets Delight: Stories to Cultivate Hope For Those Battling Mental Illness,” by Columbus resident Tony Roberts.

When: To be released Sept. 17 via a Bartholomew County Public Library virtual event on the Facebook page for the Bartholomew County Public Library.

Discussion: Roberts will speak with the Rev. Mark Teike, senior pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, during a chat from 10:15 to 11 a.m. today on Zoom. Link:

Information: The website or the Facebook page for When Despair Meets Delight.