Mental Illness Awareness Week: Mental Health and the Christian – Part 2

Continued from Mental Illness Awareness Week: Mental Health and the Christian – Part 1.

The way of the world is to shun that which is not understood and that which does not fit into a neat box. The church, by contrast, must be an exemplary welcoming ground for the misfits, the mentally ill, the downtrodden, the sick and the outcast. Compassion and love for the depressed or the anxious or the addict in our congregations is a good place to start.

Gospel Hope

In Christ we have the promises of healing, the transformation of our minds, and the restoration of our pasts, even down to our genetic predispositions. Christians acknowledge that with God, all things are possible and that Christ’s death on the cross conquered the sin—personal, familial and global—that often underlies certain mental illnesses. In him there is all power and all hope of healing.

However, we cannot always know God’s reasons and ways. Some will experience immediate healing and restoration, while others will have cause to more anxiously await the day when we will have new bodies and new minds and will inhabit a new heaven and earth. While it may not always be obvious, God has a purpose in the challenges that His people face. Helping people to see grace as they wait on the Lord’s strength is the act of demonstrating the Gospel to those who battle mental illness.

Caring for Brothers and Sisters with Mental Health Issues

The church should be one of the safest and friendliest environments for people who suffer from mental illness. It is our calling, as followers of Christ, to demonstrate the highest level of care and compassion. We cannot fear mental illness. The conditions of others need not make you question your own sanity or mental fitness. There is no need to worry that you’ll get sucked in or that their issues will rub off on you. Mental illness isn’t “catching.”

The call to have compassion is a simple one, but not always easily carried out. It’s uncomfortable for several reasons. First, we want to maintain appearances of being a good and healthy church. Second, we want to fix people with easy answers, solutions and platitudes. Third, we fear that having compassion is akin to condoning. We suspect that if we are sympathetic to those who struggle with mental illness, they will keep doing what they are doing, as if they had some control over their illness and were using it for manipulative, self-serving purposes.

This stems from a genuine lack of information within the church about what constitutes mental illness and how it is to be handled. But in reality, this is not solely a problem of the church. Society as a whole is largely unaware of the realities of mental illness and how to approach sufferers.

Promoting Mental Health Awareness in Your Church

Education and awareness are needed not only on a societal level, but within our own congregations if people are to know how to effectively help and how to extend compassion and dignity to those who battle mental illness.

In 1990, Congress formally recognized Mental Illness Awareness Week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) continues to use the first week in October to promote awareness of mental illness in the greater society, to encourage those suffering with mental illness to get screened and to seek help if needed, and to fight against the stigma of mental illness that pervades society and results in the misunderstanding of and discrimination against people suffering from mental illness. This is an opportunity for the church.

As much as pastors and church staff members try to stay abreast of world, national and community events, they are only human. You can help them by sending an email reminding them of Mental Illness Awareness Week and asking that they would make it a matter of staff and/or congregational prayer. You may also volunteer to organize a group to pray together on Oct. 8, the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding.

Does your church offer support groups or counseling for church members struggling with mental health issues? If church resources are not available for these initiatives, would it be possible to start a lay care ministry to care for, love, support and reach out to members who suffer from mental illnesses? Perhaps the church could host a depression screening?

Promoting the kind of awareness that leads to greater understanding, dignity and respect is Christ-like and thoroughly Biblical. Use this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week to bring understanding and awareness to your own congregation and help change the way the church views and understands mental illness.