Three Things the Church Must Do About Mental Health and the Family
By Dr. Brad Schwall
Faith and mental health are intertwined. Faith can influence how we understand others and ourselves. Jesus promised us that he came to bring abundant, full life. Mental illness has biological as well as psychological and environmental factors. Depression, anxiety, and alcoholism are illnesses. Illness cannot separate us from God's love, but illness can bring despair and hopelessness. Mental illness brings up questions about love, hope, and life just as physical illnesses disrupt our sense of security and well-being. Just as the church has recognized the need to care for physical needs, we need to accept the call to care for mental health needs that also have physical factors involved helping families find the abundant life Jesus promised.
If you minister to families, you address mental health issues in the lives of those families every day. Families face changes and challenges we may be aware of and those that may not be evident in day to day interactions. Inside homes, schools, offices, and our church buildings, our church members and the community deal with depression, alcoholism, anxiety, and severe mental illness. In any year, 20% of Americans deal with a mental health issue. One in four or five children deal with mental health issues. To minister effectively, we must have knowledge and tools about family development and mental health.
Church leaders and staff can take three simple steps to encourage the emotional well-being of those they serve.
Understand - the first step to caring for the whole person is to have knowledge about the prevalence, symptoms, and impact of mental illness. We must avoid false assumptions about mental illness. Mood disorders and substance abuse can happen in anyone's life, regardless of education or socio-economic status. Church members may be struggling, yet, still appear to be functioning.
De-stigmatize - it's easier to talk about physical illness or visit a hospital than it may be to talk about mental illness. Society may perceive depression as weakness or substance dependence as a lack of moral strength. Addressing mental health in an appropriate way without jokes or generalizations creates safety, expresses acceptance, and gives hope.
Support - ministers visit hospitals, churches support community clinics - the church can also offer education and support and inform the congregation about mental health resources.
The church's job is to care for souls - to help people live out their faith. The church is not a mental health agency. But, if we are to answer the call to minister as Jesus did, addressing physical needs and spiritual needs, we must also address mental health. Families in our churches may appear as though they have it all together. Families experiencing mental illness may be isolated from the community and the church. Both families within our churches and families in the community need to know that the church cares for the whole person unconditionally. By talking about mental health, applying scripture to life, offering forums for education and support, and taking care of your own mental health, we communicate that truly nothing can separate us form the love of Christ.