Over 43 million adults in the United States experience a mental illness in a given year, according to statistics from the National Alliance for Mental Health. Yet, we in the church are often silent on the topic of mental health for a variety of reasons.
One of which might be that we think of it as an “others” problem. Mental health issues affect others, not me, my family or my church family. However, statistics suggest something different.
How many people regularly attend your church? Take that number and divide it by five. Your answer is the number of individuals within your church who will likely experience a mental illness at some point this year. More importantly, mental illness is not a discriminator of persons. Though factors exist that increase the risk of experiencing a mental illness, no one is truly immune to mental health struggles. That means one of the 43 million could be a church member, a minister, a family member, or even you.
Once you identify and understand that mental illness can affect anyone, what do you do with that information? In order to take the next step, you must educate yourself.
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health issues. Do you know the symptoms of depression and anxiety? Would you know how to recognize the symptoms in those around you or yourself? Are you aware that some medical conditions increase the risk of depression or anxiety? How do you address symptoms that you might notice in others or yourself?
These are all questions that can help you to educate yourself on mental illness and mental health concerns. But simply asking the question will not give you answers. You will have to put some effort into finding the answers to your questions and learning what resources are available. Finding educational resources is certainly something our Texas Baptists Counseling Services can help you with.
When you have information and education, you will have a better idea of what action to take. Not everyone needs to pursue an education in psychology to be equipped to help yourself or others with mental health struggles. There are resources available online and ways to learn more which will, in turn, assist your discernment with what action to take.
Sometimes it could be as simple as praying from a general perspective for those in your community that might be silently struggling with mental illness. Maybe the church would be open to displaying educational materials for congregants to pick up when they discover an issue within their family or circle of friends. It is possible that your church might be blessed with space and could offer up a room for support groups that are already in existence to meet? There are a host of ideas for action. The main point is that you do not have to do it all, but we all need to do something.
Why does the church need to be concerned about and involved in mental health discussions? For me, it is as simple as the command to love God and love others in Matthew 22:37-39. If we love God and seek to follow the example of Christ, we will strive to love others as scripture commands.
God created us uniquely; we have different gifts and abilities, compassions and passions. Therefore, a call to be involved in the mental health discussion may look different for each individual or church because the gifts, abilities, and needs may be different from community to community. But, to ignore those struggling around us is not an option.
Amy Simpson, in her book Troubled Minds, references mental illness as the “no casserole illness.” When people around us, especially in church settings, experience medical struggles or loss of a loved one we try to help out in whatever way we can – often by taking food to the individual or family to lighten the burden for those struggling. It is a way to show that we care and want to minister to those hurting.
But if someone is in a psychiatric hospital, do we take food to the family? Are we quick to help with picking children up and taking them to appointments, practices, etc.? Do we pick up the phone, write letters, or visit the struggling individual to let them know we care and are praying for them? Do we ask – “How can we help?”
More often than not I’m afraid we remain silent, uncertain of what to do or how to help. Sometimes I fear that we do not offer to help because we view the individual as broken beyond healing, weird, crazy or any other thought you may have had that prevents you from reaching out to them. The truth is that we are all broken and if it were not for Christ we would have no hope and certainly no hope to share with others.
The church has got to step up and do better. We must share the hope we have in Christ. For those inside and outside our churches, the silence of the church on mental illness may feel like God is silent…but I assure you, He is not. Whether God chooses to miraculously heal, orchestrate healing through relationships or modern medicine, or even if He chooses to allow difficult circumstances in our lives in order to draw us closer to Him, He is near to the brokenhearted. We should be too.