At an old job I had, a co-worker once told me about a church who expressed their concern for a student experiencing anxiety being on a mission trip.
What was the church’s solution? Exorcism.
Christians can sometimes drop the ball when it comes to mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Though a recent study suggests that churches accept a majority of mentally ill people, 30 percent of mentally ill people reported a negative interaction from a church.
This is strange, considering that physical illness is so heavily addressed in churches. If someone is struggling from the daily aches, medicine, and care that a physical ailment brings about, the church is ready to offer healing. But when a person who suffers from the daily aches, medicine and care of a mental illness, people are often quick to defer help to someone else.
A majority of churches (as the study indicates) know the gravity of mental illness—they just don’t know how to practically love those struggling with it.
In the same way a handicapped person needs a wheelchair ramp to enter the church building, mentally ill people need specific solutions to enable their worship. We can no longer give simple answers for a problem we struggle to understand. It’s time we address it with action.
Here are a couple suggestions of how to begin:
We Begin With Fear Instead of Love
Mentally ill people have all sorts of stigmas surrounding them, which often incites fear in others.
Fear always attempts to drive us to complacency. But Jesus let His love speak louder than fear. This is what enabled Him to touch the lepers when no one else would.
True love for others roars in the face of fear. We just have to be willing to approach the lepers of our society even when our fear might tell us to do otherwise.
We Don’t Understand What the Bible Actually Says About Mental Illness
The Bible does not say that mental illness is a character defect. In fact, in the Bible, we see plenty of saints struggle with depression and other mental illnesses. For instance, take Paul, who in 2 Corinthians 11 goes on a long monologue about all of his trials. And take David, who in the Psalm 38:6 discusses the mourning of His heart.
The Bible tells us it’s OK to feel pain. Let’s stop manipulating it to make it seem otherwise.
We Don’t Include Those Struggling
A song about joy might not appeal to a person struggling with depression. In fact, too many songs of this nature might make them feel alone in the church body.
We can’t solely cater our worship experience to one subset of people, but we can ensure that most people feel included. We can address the depressed individuals in our congregations by delivering songs that are more somber and heavy.
We Don’t Train Leaders on Mental Illness
The leaders we entrust to reach into our lives cannot be the ones who are too frightened to do so. This is a surefire way to stunt connection to a church community.
As a church, we should invest in training from counselors for our small group leaders. Let’s give them the tools and abilities to thrive in their ministry with people.
We Dismiss Problems With Empty Christian Phrases
A simple Christian phrase like “you can do all things through Christ” isn’t going to solve what a person is feeling with mental illness. In fact, these phrases might do more damage.
The more we resort to default phrases and clichés, the more we signal our apathy. The measure of true concern is how much we listen, even when it gets messy.
I like how Jesus handled people in need. One time, He was walking near Jericho and a blind man called out to Him. Instead of giving Him an empty phrase, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” He knew that giving Himself in this situation was what was going to make things better.
In the same way, we give ourselves to people who are struggling. We don’t write them off with phrases we haven’t thought through.
We Don’t Pray for Mental Illness in the Church
While you might think people with mental illness are rare enough to not address with the greater body, think again. According to this study, 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health issue in a year. That’s too significant of a number not to address in our church body.
The more we pray for the mentally ill, the more we place mental illness at the forefront of our minds. If we don’t pray together for this, how will the congregation know how to pray individually for this? How do we expect lives to be changed?
We Disqualify Mentally Ill People from Serving.
Mentally ill people are not less capable to serve in the Kingdom of God. In fact, God often uses imperfect people to speak His words. If there’s anything we learn from the Bible, it’s that God uses murderers, adulterers, liars, idolaters, and more to carry His truth. It should be no different for the mentally ill.
I don’t think we’ll ever know how to truly be there for the mentally ill. But what matters is we stop remaining ignorant and complacent. The mentally ill deserve our care too. It’s time we replace shame with love, ignorance with compassion, and finally do something to come alongside the mentally ill.
Neal Samudre is the creator of JesusHacks.com and is the author of Jesus Workforce, a guide to help people build better habits and grow as leaders in the workplace. Subscribe to his free course to learn how you can live like Jesus in a busy life.