The Church’s Response to Mental Illness

Barb Green, Parish Nurse

Milton, WI

 

 

 

Our health focus for 2017 has been on mental illness. In Milton this has been done through newsletter articles, bulletin board items, and Back Door posters. In September, we started a Grow Group discussion class titled “Mental Illness is Not a Choice.” We viewed videos, heard guest speakers and are working through a Bible study. Response has been so great that the class is continuing for another quarter.

After learning about the various forms of mental illness, the question becomes “what should be the church’s response to those who suffer from these brain disorders?” One of the first things we learned is that 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental health issue. This may include relatives, those you share the pew with at worship, fellow workers or yourself. Many times we have no idea who they are since people tend to be ashamed of their condition. Much stigma is attached. When symptoms flare up people often drop out of activities until things are under

control again. This makes us oblivious to their illness. When someone has a physical illness such as cancer or a broken leg, we help out by taking meals, visiting, sending cards, giving them rides, etc. Mental illness is called a “no casserole” disease because it is usually excluded from this type of help.

So what can your church congregation do to support the mentally ill?

  1. Become educated about the disease. There are many resources on the internet, excellent books such as “The Troubled Mind” by Amy Simpson or NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, which has literature, classes and support groups. Learning helps remove the stigma associated with mental illness.
  2. Get the support of your pastor in the education process. Help them become educated.
  3. Talk about the illness. Tell your own story.
  4. Start a support group.
  5. Rid the church of stigma and shame. Do not gossip about those who are struggling or avoid them.
  6. Delight in broken people. Make them feel welcome. Be present, become a friend, radiate acceptance. The mentally ill are often lonely.
  7. Be patient. Mental illness does not resolve overnight; some is never resolved but can be managed with medication and therapy. It is a chronic illness with relapses. People don’t “just get over it.”
  8. Never suggest that having more faith is the answer or that mental illness is due to sin.
  9. Draw boundaries for yourself and stick to them. Being a healthy mentor includes taking care of yourself.
  10. Know when you are in over your head and ask for help.
  11. Treat people as you would like to be treated.

The church cannot afford to ignore mental illness — too many people are affected. We are called to spread love and hope. This means stepping out and offering only what the people of God can offer — spiritual support and loving community. When the church is silent to a person in crisis, it can sound remarkably like silence from God. How we behave toward the mentally ill communicates truth or falsehood about God’s love for them. Be in prayer about your church’s response to those who have mental health issues.

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