Let’s Talk: The Church and Mental Illness
Tomorrow is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada. It’s an annual event designed to increase awareness, reduce stigma and help change behaviors and attitudes about mental health issues. Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, as well as Mary Walsh, Michael Landsberg and Howie Mandel participate as the public face of the campaign.
It’s an important day for the church as well. Here are five thoughts about mental illness and the church.
1. We often avoid the issue of mental illness. Ed Stetzer is bang on when he writes, “So often in a congregation, we like to pretend this is not a real issue because we have such a difficult time understanding it. We stick our heads in the sand, add the person to the prayer list and continue on ministering to the ‘normal’ people. But it’s real, and it isn’t going away.” As a pastor, I have experienced the temptation to ignore the reality of mental illness, but we can’t afford to do so.
2. Our attitudes toward mental illness are often simplistic. According to Stetzer, nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. We sometimes resemble Job’s comforters or those who asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” in our efforts to explain mental illness (John 9:2).
3. Mental illness is an issue that’s bigger than we think. According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. 23% of pastors indicate that they have personally struggled with mental illness of some kind. Heroes of the faith, such as C.H. Spurgeon, struggled with mental illness.
4. We need a robust understanding of mental illness. Out of anyone, Christians should understand the complexity of the human makeup. “We need to recognize that man’s various parts (physical, spiritual, emotional) cannot be compartmentalized but must be considered as one whole person,” writes one pastor. Let’s not ignore the spiritual when it comes to talking about depression and other mental illnesses, but let’s not ignore the physical and emotional either.
5. Churches need to lead the way in welcoming all people into the safety of the gospel. Nancy Guthrie asks a great question: “Is your church a safe place for sad people?” I pray it is. As someone has said, we should aim to not only be the safest church in town, but the safest anything in town. We should welcome the weary and heavy-laden as Jesus does.
I’m grateful for Let’s Talk Day, and I’m hoping churches will also work towards increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and helping to change behaviors and attitudes about mental health issues.
Mental Health Access Pack offer the church a Christian-based resource which presents the facts on key mental health issues, all in one place. It’s worth checking out.
I’ve also appreciated Ed Stetzer’s writings on this topic. David Murray also has some helpful blog posts. Here is one example.