The church, in general, isn’t “good at” mental health.
If you happen to have a great experience with a Christian organization, a specific pastor or chaplain, or a particular church, wonderful! I know it happens – I’ve seen it happen – but I’ve also seen the opposite.
The Christian culture has been saturated with the concept that prayer and right believing is always the answer. Someone with a mental mental health issue isn’t trying hard enough to be a “good” Christian, rather than having a biological, chemical or serious life issues. I have seen people completely dismissed as irrelevant due to being diagnosed with mental health issues. I have seen others, not-diagnosed but having mental health issues of some-kind, be dismissed as bad, mean or crazy.
Fortunately, I believe this is changing. There is a growing acceptance and understanding that God purposefully created us all unique and good. The church is being transformed into a place that one can bring their whole selves, not just those that are deemed civil or appropriate or acceptable.
This has to have God smiling.
God loves us and knows us as who we are and does not measure our worth against what our human culture deems appropriate or acceptable. God knows our biological make-up, the circumstances of our childhood, and everything that comes after. God knows that we are not in-charge of our whole lives or can control our situations. God knows that we struggle, that we do what we can with what we have, that even our choices and decisions are not always our own.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows you better than you know yourself.
And because of this, the church should be, must be, a place of healing and hope, a place of acceptance and honesty.
The church should be and must be a place for our whole selves, and here a few ways we can move closer to this:
- Pastors and appropriate church staff (Christian Education, etc.) should have at least minimal training in mental health awareness in order to discern if mental health is an issue with an individual or in group dynamics. (In my experience, Pastors should have at least one Clinical Pastoral Education unit, if not a full residency if they are called to a ministry in spiritual growth and/or pastoral care.)
- Pastors and staff should have multiple and varied resources to refer individuals, couples and families to. The pastor/staff member should then follow-up with the individual, couple or family and continue to support them as needed. Additionally, find ways that involvement in the church community can assist their healing journey.
- Mental health issues should be regularly included in the church community in order to normalize it’s reality, just as physical health issues are. Include prayers for mental health issues in worship, integrate into appropriate sermons, and invite specialists to speak on various issues for education events.
- Integrate mental health awareness/issues in pre-martial counselling.
- Pastors should have a personal mental health therapist or counselor to meet with regularly (in addition to a spiritual director). Even the “most healthy” spiritual person is not immune to the effects of the emotions of caregiving, hormones, changes in their personal lives, or revelations of unhealthy coping skills. This trained individual can help a pastor be proactive when addressing issues that can and do have a huge affect on the church’s ministry. (Read Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer)
- Identify, train and support members of the congregation who are gifted in dealing with mental health to be a resource for those in the church. (Stephen Ministry is a wonderful option!)
- Churches can support local and national non-profits already working with mental health. The referrals, volunteers, networks and other assistance from local churches will greatly further their ministry.
I pray that those in the church are able to set aside their personal assumptions and limiting doctrines in order to open their hearts and minds to God’s call for us to minister will all people in all circumstances.
I pray that those who are dealing with mental health issues or in a relationship with someone who is, finds support and healing within a church – and if they don’t, that they are able to find a different one that does.
I pray that God will continue to expand our hearts and minds so that we can see the good in God’s Creation without judgement, exceptions, and cultural filters.
If you are in need of assistance with a mental health issue, find help now. God does not want you to remain alone.
Committed Parent – my all-time favorite resource for all things of the mind
Mental Illness and the Church – Christianity Today
Westminster Counselling Center
Blessing House Counselling Cooperative
United Methodist Church & Mental Health
Presbyterian Church (USA) & Mental Health
Evangelical Lutheran Church of American & Mental Health
Mental Health & the Church Gathering
Mental Health & the Church Gathering article – Huffington Post
May is Mental Health month. Read my May 2014 posts if you are interested in learning more about the connection between mental health and spirituality. Each contains some relevant links. Also, click on an particular category or tag of interest.
Mental Health is a Spiritual Issues – post 1
Mental Health, Sensory Processing Disorder and Spirituality – post 2
Mental Health, Anxiety, Depression and Spirituality – post 3
Mental Health, Toxic Shame, and Spirituality – post 4