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Welcome to Belovedgems, a blog about building a bridge between faith and mental health. The author rooted in her faith , her old-soul leads her into adventures to seek spreading hope into the world through a couple of written words.

Mental Health Illness and The Church

It saddens me to see that not only is mental health illness a stigma among our culture, but also among the church.  Many churches refuse to address mental health illness or they do so by giving the laziest advice "Pray Harder", "Let it Go", "Pray about it".  Reality check folks, they have probably already prayed about it, a whole lot!

When you tell someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. to pray harder, you are diminishing their pain.  All they hear is something like this "Oh that is nothing" or "Your struggle is not important to me."  Mental health illness is not something that goes away with a prayer.  Do not get me wrong. I firmly believe in the power of prayer and that God can heal many wounds of our soul.  Being someone who has had anxiety attacks, struggled with depression, and works in the field, I know first hand that is a long process and with God everything is possible.  Those who are struggling with mental health illness don't need the church to tell them to go "pray about it."  They need a church, a community to be slow to speak and fast to empathize.  

I understand that this advice at times is given with a good intention and it is to direct them back to Jesus. But, when you are in a emotional torment this advice falls short on many levels.

So, what can the church do to help out those with mental health illness?

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:26

First: Build leaders who can empathize with others.  Empathy is a skill that is enforced in schools for counseling.  It is the ability to place yourself in another person's shoes to feel what they feel and to see their worldview with their perspective. 

Second:  Learn active listening.  Many times we are just "hearing" the other person.  Too quick to interrupt and give our two cents.  However, we lack the ability to understand not only what they are saying, but also what they feel.  The basic active listening skills are: 

1. Validating feelings, by not only listening to the individuals words but listening to what their heart is saying.  
2. Body Language, what is your body telling the other person (i.e., are your arms crossed, eye contact, etc.) 
3. Paraphrasing, this is summarizing what the other person said.  Focus on the highlights and what the person has emphasized.
4. Reflect, the ability to be able to think about what the individual has said and is feeling. Reflection is perhaps the most important listening skill.  It leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

These active listening skills aren't easy, and you will need to practice them.  

Third: Give the person who is being tormented by a mental health illness room for restoration.  Allow them to be in pain.  Allow them to cry.  Allow them to be silent.  I say "allow" because many times we don't allow others to be who they are by what we say or do. I had mentioned previously that a mental health illness does not go away with just a prayer. It is a long process of healing and restoration.  If you are not equipped to understand fully and help someone with mental health illness, it is okay to seek help elsewhere.  Assist them in finding help.

The first two steps are meant for us as a church to be able to understand and empathize with the body of Christ.  However, it is important not take matters into our hands.  Many social workers, psychologists, and clinicians dislike that there are people who want to do "hero work" when in fact they can be causing, even more, damage to a person suffering from a mental health illness. I know that even the best of my friends are limited when it comes to dealing with my anxiety. I don’t hold that against them. 

We are in urgent NEED for the church to be vocal about mental health illness.  If you are in leadership I encourage you to step up and be at the front-line of this battle.  We are loosing too many people to suicide, depression, and the darkness of this world because they can't seem where to go for help.  The church must become a safe place where people who are sick can seek healing, be transparent and honest with their struggles.  Be vocal at your church whether that is through sermons series, resources, videos etc.

If there is one thing I have learned in the last nine years of working with children and teens who struggle with mental health is:

To be quick to listen and slow to speak. -Jeremiah 1:19

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