How churches can respond to mental illness


How can churches respond to mental illness? Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, asks and answers that question in an essay for CNN’s Belief Blog. Two of this four suggestions are:

1. Churches need to stop hiding mental illness.

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. In 2009, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showed 17% of respondents as having been diagnosed with depression. There are people in the pews every week – ministers, too – struggling with mental illness or depression, and we need to recognize this.

2. The congregation should be a safe place for those who struggle.

We are often afraid of mental illness and the symptoms that come with it. As a result, we don’t know what to do with our own level of discomfort and our fears for safety, or we just don’t want to be inconvenienced.

A study from Baylor University indicates “that while help from the church with depression and mental illness was the second priority of families with mental illness, it ranked 42nd on the list of requests from families that did not have a family member with mental illness.” This is a real need among our congregations, one that we absolutely cannot ignore or expect to go away.

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A Facebook User

Before I became an Episcopalian, I was raised in a fundamentalist-evangelical church. Mental illness was stigmatized as the work of demons or devils rather than a medical condition deserving of support and understanding.

As someone who has struggled with manic depressive illness for many years, I find it so helpful to be in a loving, supportive environment in which my clergy understand that prayer is important, but so is medication; likewise, my psychiatrist believes that spirituality and meditation are an important part of maintaining mental health.

Why religion and psychiatry should ever be at odds puzzles me. It is my personal opinion that blaming things on "demons" is an abdication of personal responsibility, and a denial of scientific progress... but evangelicals seem to enjoy that. I'm just glad to have found a religious community that is based both 2,000 years of church tradition, and on common sense.

Jason Lewis [added by ed. - please sign your name when posting - thx]

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