If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you or someone you know has mental health needs. Unfortunately, the public perception of mental health (MH) and what it truly is are often two different entities. I worked in the MH field for around ten years in a variety of settings. I learned from colleagues with various educations and backgrounds. Some of these people became good friends of mine. In my work in MH, the success rate of clients was much higher for people who also have “spiritual supports”. Spiritual supports may be: involvement in a faith community, a relationship with a religious leader/mentor, active use of spiritual practices, etc. And this is where the Church comes in.
In my experience in the Christian faith as a believer and as a pastor, the Church has not done well in dealing with MH. Our prayer requests in our churches are often focused on the physical and spiritual needs of ourselves and those we deeply love; however, how often do you hear a prayer request for one’s own MH needs? It is rare. It is rare because people are hesitant of how others will respond to this. Will I get judged for having this diagnosis? Will people think I need to pray it away? (I will address this later!)
Let me tell you something you need to hear. Most Americans struggle with Depression and/or Anxiety–diagnosed or not. The pace that we “do life” does not help us. The common issue here is we treat MH differently. If someone has heart issues or diabetes, we never tell them to “suck it up”. We usually respect that they need medications or lifestyle changes to deal with their physical health issues. People with MH concerns need to be treated the same way as those with physical health concerns.
What can the Church do? The Church –> AKA the people, programs, and cultures….
- Pray for ourselves. This sounds odd yet we need to do this before we can adequately walk with others. We must pray for ourselves. Which of our own mental health concerns do we have?
- Pray for others. As we pray for others and begin to walk with them through their MH concerns, please DO NOT tell them to “pray away” their struggles. Someone who is slightly anxious is one thing. A person who has a clinical diagnosis of Anxiety is another. No one tells you to pray away your Diabetes; don’t do that to others!
- Look at people as a whole person. It is crucial to know that if something is off in another part of someone’s life or body that it will impact their spiritual health. Life is a jigsaw puzzle and we need Jesus and others in the details and in the missing pieces. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and ready to act when needed.
- Guide people to getting care for themselves. Medications, therapy, support groups, reading and writing–these are just a few of the options that people may need in their journey. Encourage others (and yourself) to get the help that they need and know that EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.
- Start addressing MH concerns from the pulpit. As a pastor, we have talked about tons of stuff from the pulpit in the last few years but I hear few statements on MH. I know it is foreign territory to most clergy. We cannot be silent about this. Let’s be open to having the conversation.
- Create cultures for people to feel spiritually safe. When people come to our churches, they should feel the Holy Spirit. They should feel loved. As Christians, it is our JOB to create that. People should feel safe at church. This is also a Bully-Free Zone.