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As a Christian who suffers from anxiety and depression, I’ve struggled with the perception of mental illness in the church. It isn’t often talked about, and being open and honest about my struggles has sometimes invited unwanted advice and judgement. This is devastating, both to the people who are turned away from the church, and to the church’s relevancy in modern society.
The Current State of Mental Illness in the Church
When was the last time your pastor mentioned mental illness in the sermon? If you can’t remember, you’re not alone: almost two-third of pastors reported speaking about mental illness once a year or less in this study. Why is this significant? The study also found that over half of adults who have a mental illness would feel unwelcome by most churches.
In my experience, many Christians aren’t sure how they should feel about mental illness. They’re uncomfortable about the subject, so they default to a common theme: God can heal anything. Now, that is a truth that all Christians share. But why do we treat mental illness differently than other illnesses?
If someone comes to a Christian friend with a broken arm, they will pray together on the way to the hospital. But if someone comes to that friend explaining their mental illness and admitting they’re in pain… it’s usually not their first instinct to realize that person may be in immediate danger.
Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me. But I’ve been on the receiving end of prescriptions of how to pray, musings about what else I’m doing wrong in my life, and guesses about what happened in my past that led to my current conditions.
This needs to change.
From a firsthand perspective, this hasn’t helped me at all! And my fellow Christian mental illness survivors have shared with me that it hasn’t helped them, either. But what has helped? Having a close group of friends that will pray for me, without judgement. Having people that I can look up to and follow in their footsteps to mature my faith. And most of all, having a pastor that mentions mental illness, making it not so foreign after all.
Mental illness is a real disease.
Matthew 10:8 says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” What does this mean for mental illness in the church? Pray for healing and new life for people who have mental illness. Don’t hold back your prayers until they go off their medication, change their lifestyle, or go through an intensive prayer session. This kind of thinking and “other-ness” about mental illness hurts us all.
For most people, the best way to treat mental illness is a combination of medication and mental health counseling. This is similar to the best way to treat diabetes, kidney failure, high cholesterol, and cancer: medication and nutrition counseling. Both of these approaches use a combination of proven techniques to treat a person’s condition from the inside, and the outside by changing their lifestyle and habits.
Let’s accept mental illness in the church.
Ignoring mental illness won’t make it go away. Ostracizing mentally ill people won’t make them better. Luke 10:9 says, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Refusing to acknowledge and pray for mentally ill people hurts them and the church as a whole.
What’s your experience with mental illness in the church? Tell me in the comments!
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