by Julie Christiansen, MA
One in five Canadians will have a mental illness or addiction in their lifetime. This means that one in five persons in your church are likely to be affected by a mental illness. Why is mental health so feared and stigmatized? Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” We fear what we do not understand. In the past mental illness has ben misunderstood to be voodoo, demonic possession, witchcraft, obea, “madness”. In order to support and help people who have a mental illness, we must first develop an understanding of what it is, and what can be done to be a supportive church body.
There is a prevailing stigma in the church that mental illness is a sign of weakness, or the result of sin in someone’s life. When someone struggles with mental health issues, we the body of Christ look for someone to blame. This is not a new concept – the disciples asked Jesus of a blind man, “Who sinned, this man’s parents or other of his ancestors, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus basically told them they were asking the WRONG question. The right question should have been, “What can we do to help this man?”
The community surrounding the man with illness in his eyes responded to his needs with ignorance and stigma. Jesus responded differently. How should we respond to people with illnesses in their brains? The blind’s man family was treated with suspicion and blame. But Jesus took another approach. How will we support families and their loved ones?
- Make your church a safe place for people with mental illness.
- Pastors, equip your people with tools. Get educated about mental health issues and make sure all your volunteers and lay people have a basic mental health education
- Treat hurting people like PEOPLE rather than “problems”.
- Address the stigma of mental illness by being open and transparent about it.
- Treat those people and their families like you would treat any family of someone with a physical illness. Pray for them and with them.
Mental Health is the Church’s Business
Like many physical sicknesses, there is no “cure’ for many kinds of mental illnesses. They can often be chronic and debilitating. However, like other medical conditions, with the right treatments and support from loved ones and the community – including the church community, mental illnesses can be managed, and individuals can live meaningful lives.