Recent years have seen the cultural stigma surrounding mental health beginning to fall. While we still have a long way to go, we’ve certainly made progress in addressing this all-too-common problem. But while our culture has made significant strides, the church as a whole hasn’t been too quick to catch up. Misconceptions about mental health still prevail in many Christian circles.
Properly talking about mental health in church starts with admitting that it’s a complicated issue. We can’t dismiss anyone with mental illness as simply weak-willed or sinful. Rather, we should recognize mental illness as the medical issue that it is and provide as much help and support as we can, just like we would for anyone with a physical illness. But what does that look like? Here are a few ways to address mental illness in the church.
Be Mindful of People with Mental Illnesses
Depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles cause massive amounts of grief and frustration to anyone living with them. It’s all too easy for people to beat themselves up over the fact that they don’t feel like they think they should, especially if others can see it. So if the church talks about mental illness in a way that places blame on the victims or even labels them as sinful, how is that helping? Worse, if we rush to find the fastest and simplest solution, how are we truly demonstrating Christ’s love?
One distinction to keep in mind is the difference between deliberately sinful behavior and behavior resulting from a mental disorder. A person suffering from depression may not be especially pleasant to be around, for example, but this fact comes from their own emotional struggles rather than a simple desire to make other people suffer. We should focus on the source of the behavior rather than the behavior itself. And the first way to do that is to understand that mental illness requires the same level of medical and emotional support that any other type of illness does. After all, problems with a person’s body will affect their mind, and vice versa. The brain is an organ, and sometimes organs need professional medical help.
Have a Mental Health Professional Present
Does your church have a certified mental health professional on staff? If not, consider hiring one or having an existing staff member become certified. Think of it like having a paramedic on call–there’s a true medical professional ready to intervene if the situation calls for it. This also gives you the chance to offer genuinely helpful counseling through your church.
Don’t assume that just anyone is qualified to act as a mental health counselor, however. You may have heard that every Christian is a counselor or that the Bible provides all the answers we need for mental health while modern psychology is humanistic and worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth! While the Bible touches on different types of science, it is not and was not intended to be a science book. We cannot learn how to handle complex mental illnesses solely from Scripture any more than we can learn how to set a broken bone based only on Bible verses. Assuming we can places us in an arrogant position and prevents those in need from getting the professional help they truly require.
Pro Tip: The Bible was written for our edification, not to be used as a weapon against people struggling with mental illnesses. Hurting people need love and support, not condemnation.
Provide Resources for Those in Need
Love and support from the church can go a long way toward helping someone struggling with mental illness. However, never discount the help that outside professional organizations have to offer. Try compiling a list of mental health resources your church can have on file, including:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (phone number 1-800-273-8255)
- A trustworthy online therapy center (such as Sondermind)
- The Crisis Text Line (text “HELLO” to 741741)
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Additionally, consider buying books or study materials recommended by these organizations for the church library. Having these resources easily accessible will show anyone struggling that you care about them and want to help them get better.
Building One Another Up
The Bible tells us to encourage one another and build each other up. Part of the beauty of this verse is that it’s so broad–it doesn’t give step-by-step instructions on how to address every situation, but rather it’s left for us to meet people where they are. Building up a fellow believer with mental health problems will likely require a higher level of commitment, love, and patience than other forms of ministry. But showing Christ’s love and providing a safe place for them to meet God is well worth it.
Get in touch with us to learn about our ministries to people at any point in their lives.