From TikToks to streaming series like Shrinking (Apple TV), conversations surrounding mental health and mental illness are increasingly common. For so long, such topics were only whispered about in private, if they were discussed at all.
Thankfully, things are changing.
Now, the wider conversation surrounding mental health is allowing many people to feel seen and understood like never before. Still, there is one place where the mental conversation has been slow to change – the Church.
And while some churches are doing this well, creating safe spaces for their community to bring their struggles, far too many are unintentionally leaving those struggling with mental health or illnesses feeling ostracized, shamed, and unwelcome.
It is time for the Church to open her doors and begin to engage in the topic.
Here are some ways you can shift the way your church deals with Mental Health.
1. Don’t just throw out verses
There are a plenty of comforting verses in the Bible, but they may not feel so comforting to someone in the midst of struggle. For example, telling someone struggling with depression to simply “count it all joy” can come across as dismissive of their pain.
Far too often, we list off a spiritual diagnosis before we’ve listened to the entirety of a person’s story. Things like depression or anxiety seem to make many Christians feel uncomfortable.
Does talking about them make you feel uncomfortable?
Instead of going down a list of Bible verses, what if you and your church make space to listen and understand what people are going through. Rather than focusing on how their thoughts and feelings make you feel, focus on providing true comfort by offering a safe, non-judgmental space… like Jesus did. (John 4)
2. Elevate the conversation
Research shows that one in five individuals in your church are walking through a mental illness. If people don’t have anxiety or depression, they almost certainly have a loved one in their life who is facing mental health challenges.
They are looking to you, their church leader, for direction on how to reconcile the issues they face with their faith. When those who struggle with mental health issues hear you or others share about mental health from a Christian perspective, not only are they validated in their experiences, they are equipped to walk stronger in their own journey.
You don’t have to be a psychologist to teach a mental health series.
Consult with experts in your church or online and more importantly focus on the care and comfort that our faith provides for us in times of trouble. Your honesty and willingness to talk about the hard stuff and acknowledge the deep pain that many are feeling will have a significant impact.
Click here and we’ll give you a sneak peek at a series called Soundtracks that is perfect to get conversations going in your church!
3. Build a network of faith-based mental health professionals
Do you have any licensed therapists or mental health professionals in your church? Ask if they would be willing to be a part of a directory. That way, when someone in your church is struggling, you have a list of trustworthy people who love God and are trained in how to walk with others through a difficult moment in their life.
Finding the right therapist can be difficult, and when things like depression make it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks, offering a list of professional counselors can be a huge help.
Faith-based licensed professionals can point their patients and clients to God while also being aware that sometimes God heals through medication or some other process. Being known as a community of people who can help in situations will let your community know that you are ready, willing, and able to walk beside and support them, no matter what the outcome is.
4. Offer mental health-based community
While it is necessary and vital to offer professional care, particularly if someone is in a harmful mental space, it is also important to provide a supportive community in their day-to-day life.
Offering specific care groups for women with postpartum depression or teens who are battling anxiety allows your members to see that they are not alone.
This gives people a place where they feel understood.
It may even give them a glimpse at what a path forward might look like. Groups like these also give those who have walked through difficult seasons a chance to see purpose in the pain they experienced.
Groups like these can also be incredibly beneficial to the family and friends of those dealing with mental health or mental illness. While they love their friend or family member, it can be difficult to step into the person’s shoes and understand what they’re going through. Specific groups will provide relief to people on both sides of the situation.
5. Offer specific prayer
Mental health and mental illness are vast and nuanced topics of discussion. Everyone’s story is unique. Everyone’s thoughts and feelings will be unique. It is easy to pray a general prayer and lump them all in together.
But mental health struggles can feel isolating.
You feel like the only one who feels this way. By privately listening and praying for specific issues that come up, you let those hurting know that they are seen and that you care enough to bring them before God.
6. Bring those who struggle to the front
While mental health issues can be very private struggles, do what you can to feature people who have walked through these things or are still walking through them.
If they are comfortable doing so, allow space on your stage for them to talk about faith in the midst of depression, anxiety, disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.
This can be meaningful and powerful for those listening. It may even give people the push to finally come forward and ask for the help they need. It demonstrates that you, as a church, are not afraid of going into the deep, dark, and messy parts of people’s stories.
7. Don’t rush the process
While it is difficult to understand, God does not always immediately remove our suffering or trials. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Someone’s anxiety might not go away after one prayer or one small group meeting.
The journey of restoring mental health can often be long.
Do your best to approach each situation with patience, and don’t be afraid of the difficult questions that might come up in the process.
“Where is God in my pain?”
“Why hasn’t He healed me?”
Not every question has a clean, easy answer. But as a pastor and shepherd, you get the opportunity to lead in how your church reacts and responds when these questions come up.
Emily Towns, Staff Writer, Paper Giants
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/saulalbert/34991210106