This article is part of our new series on Mental Health. In this series, our counselors hope to call churches and Christians to re-engage with the discussion and care for mental health struggles.
Many professional counselors would prefer that “church people” not get involved in helping people with mental health struggles. Perhaps they have heard horror stories of uninformed friends who do more harm than good by contradicting good medical advice in favor of more prayer and faith.
We also mentioned earlier in this series that many people seem reluctant to ever share their mental health struggles with people from their church.
So, what should the role of Christians be in helping with mental health struggles? Is it appropriate to seek help for mental health struggles from a church?
When we’re equipping churches through our training, these are some of the most common questions we hear. Leaders want to know how to respond to the issue of mental illness.
Some fear they might do more harm than good, and others seem to have overconfidence that simplistic strategies will reorient all mental struggles.
Here’s what we tell churches and individuals: Be a faithful friend who speaks the truth in love over time.
Don’t underestimate the power of friendship in the battles of mental health. Strong Christian friendships make a powerful impact.
The rest of this article lays out a few practical ways a good friend can impact those with mental health struggles.
A good friend brings comfort to the suffering.
If you spend much time with those who have been given a mental health diagnosis, you will quickly realize a correspondence between their past experience of pain and their current mental health struggles. As a counselor or pastor, virtually every time I have encountered a serious mental health struggle, details about their personal pain begin to emerge.
Christ-like compassion allows us to differentiate between someone’s “hurt” and their “foolish responses.” What often gets individuals to a counselor’s office is their responses to hurt, which can range from bizarre to anxious. A good friend digs deeper than those surface issues.
A Christ-like heart of empathy should be our first response even as we begin to engage with the troublesome responses to their pain that have created difficulty for them.
A good friend brings wisdom to the confusion.
Dealing with a difficult mental health struggle is disorienting, and people don’t feel like themselves anymore. Whether it’s debilitating anxiety, bizarre thought patterns, or de-motivating depression, these struggles seem to dominate our human experience and affect everyday issues of life.
A good friend helps by gently bringing wisdom to confront their responses and actions. While staying inside in isolation may seem like a necessary response to many with mental health struggles, a good friend can suggest another approach.
Good friends can persistently challenge confused thinking with appropriate responses that rebalance the distortions someone faces in daily living.
A good friend brings accountability to seeking treatment.
When you realize that your friend is spiraling further into unwise responses and despair, you can encourage them to seek help and comply with treatment.
This article doesn’t intend to debate what are the best treatments when looking at good counseling, pharmaceuticals, and natural remedies.
Just remember, good friends can provide encouragement for getting help and following through with treatments long enough and consistently enough to receive the benefits.
A good friend brings truth to disbelief.
The battle of mental health is a spiritual battle, not just a physical battle. While mental health struggles may impair someone’s ability to embrace some of the truths that the Bible teaches, our challenge is to patiently encourage them to trust God.
The approach of Jesus was remarkably consistent in His conversations through the Gospels. He called for those suffering the effects of living in a fallen world to trust Him with forgiveness of sins and to follow the guidance He modeled about spirit-empowered living.
It requires patience to speak biblical truth to someone with mental health struggles, but it’s worth it.
A good friend brings hope to despair.
For people with mental health struggles, it seems like a never-ending struggle that demands an escape. That is why there is a high correlation between mental health struggles and suicide.
However, did you know that someone who attends church just once a month, is 500% less likely to commit suicide? You can make a huge difference by simply being the kind of friend that notices when someone is missing, offers rides, and shares meals.
In a real way, good friends can embody the hope of Christ to someone dealing with mental health struggles – bringing His healing touch and eternal hope to them in their time of need.
At some point, our friends will no longer have mental health struggles.
Philippians 1:6 reminds us of this in a powerful way, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Until then, we encourage you to be a faithful friend who speaks the truth in love over time!