According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014, 18.1% of U. S. adults aged 18 or older had experienced some form of mental illness within the past year. This statistic translated into an estimated 43.6 million adults, or 1 out of every 5 adults, and did not even include the millions of children with mental disorders! Given these numbers, it is important for churches to develop plans to engage and serve people who struggle with mental health issues. There are at least four reasons that the church must do so.
Firstly, the church must care for people with mental health issues because of our COMMISSION. In Matthew 28:19-20, our Lord gave The Great Commission to the church. He commanded us to go into the world and make disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all of His Word. This command from the Lord is for all humanity, including people with mental health issues, and the church must value, engage, evangelize and educate them if we hope to fulfill the commission that has been given to us.
Secondly, the church must care for people with mental health issues because we are people of COMPASSION. Mental health problems can be debilitating to people and, without proper care, render them incapable of coping with stress, functioning independently and maintaining relationships. They can also hinder people’s ability to access mental health care without assistance and keep steady jobs. Quite often, their family members struggle to provide care due to limited resources, social stigma and even religious beliefs. They and their families need help, and the church must assist because we are people of compassion. Our Lord loved and cared for people with mental health problems, and so should we.
Thirdly, the church must care for people with mental health issues because we have a unique CAPACITY to do so. The church is uniquely equipped with the motive, message and means to provide such care. The church’s work is motivated by love, and this love enables the church to persist in the very difficult task of walking alongside people who struggle with mental health problems. The church also has the unique message of the Gospel, which sheds light in darkness and delivers hope to these precious people of God. Besides these, the church has the means--the saints of God who are empowered by the Holy Spirit--to persevere in caring for people with mental health issues when others would have despaired.
Finally, the church must care for people with mental health issues because COLLABORATION is essential. The state, local and non-governmental agencies that provide care to people with mental health problems are constrained by inadequate funding, limited insurance resources and complicated legal requirements that limit their ability to provide care to the millions of Americans who need mental health care. Besides these limitations, the reality is that effective mental healthcare requires a combination of psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, practical and pastoral (spiritual) care that cannot be accomplished without the active involvement of the church.
In light of the above, let the people of God be reminded of the many millions of people around us who are dealing with mental health problems. Let us engage, evangelize and educate them in the Word of God, so that their suffering will be alleviated and their souls will be saved. Our commission, compassion, capacity and collaboration demand it.
George Effiom serves as pastor of United Christian Fellowship of Arlington.