This is the first article in 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.
There has perhaps never been a more confusing time for Christians and church leaders to address the topic of mental health.
Corporate America and the media have a whole month devoted it to it, and we often see athletes and celebrities championing acceptance of those seeking treatment for it. We have young men who hurt the innocent time and time again, and we see politicians grandstanding and pushing for increased funding to treat mental health concerns.
Pharmaceutical commercials seem to promise miracle treatments, but our own eyes lead us to believe that mental health concerns are only increasing. Even our political discourse increasingly assumes a mental deficiency within our opponents, and social media seems to fuel an increasingly unhealthy frame of mind in our youth.
There is real reason for concern when it comes to mental health and our responses to it.
So, where does our faith and the ministry of the church fit into the solutions for mental illness?
How would Jesus have us respond to the current conversations?
We know Jesus cared deeply about all who were weary and struggling. The church needs to do the same and care deeply for those with mental health struggles.
This effort isn’t about saving our country or way of life, but about a humble and sincere desire to meet people in their moments of grief, sadness, confusion, and rage. It’s about helping fellow sinners to see how pursuing God in the midst of life’s heartaches can bring peace and stability to their souls.
Sadly, many churches and individuals have been unable to effectively engage in discussions on mental health because they have defaulted to inadequate and misguided approaches. For many Christians, it’s easier to sit on the sidelines rather than seek to engage. Ask yourself, how many of the mindsets below have you believed?
Here are common reasons why most Christians don’t engage those facing mental health struggles:
Mental health struggles and disorders are a complicated web of behaviors, thoughts, and motivations that cannot easily be separated into simplistic categories. Modern psychology readily indentifes the patterns of behaviors that it observes but has struggled to address the source.
Some Christians and churches say mental health struggles are caused by a lack of faith, prayer, and devotional practices or simple rebellious choices. This implies that people of faith should never struggle, but that’s not true.
Overly simplistic answers are inadequate and can be hurtful to many.
If mental health concerns are primarily physical and medical issues, then who are the right professionals to address these concerns? Why should churches even try to get involved?
Since most Christians don’t have medical degrees, can’t prescribe anything, and lack scientific training, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to engage in this conversation? Many counselors question whether science can ever explain the complicated and painful stories that we so often hear.
Why do some people respond with amazing grit and resilience and others seemingly reject wisdom and spiral further into difficulty? Science doesn’t seem to have adequate answers to the moral complexities of mental health struggles.
Some in the church mock mental health struggles with statements like, “ADD might as well be named ‘Absent Dad Disorder’,” “PTSD is another way of saying ‘snowflake’,” and “those with depression just need to toughen up.”
While it may be true that previous generations dealt with more difficult living conditions than today’s young people, belittling all mental health struggles as simply looking to find an easy way out is unkind and unhelpful.
Sadly, the sarcastic discourse that comes from many Christians implies that mental health struggles are simply the inventions of irresponsible people.
Some churches fail to engage in conversations about mental health from a Christian perspective because they are convinced that the Christian faith has little to contribute to conversations about mental health.
If the Bible is little more than man’s best attempt to explain God, then our response to these conversations may be to intentionally keep God out of it because religious dogmatism often causes more problems than it solves. If faith is a private matter, and mental health is a public health issue, then the church should keep its distance.
This approach fails to realize how those with mental health struggles can benefit from strong participation in communities of faith.
We need to give more than our “thoughts and prayers” to those who are facing mental health struggles and those around them who love them.
Putting on a veneer of concern and sharing sympathetic platitudes don’t really provide true care at all. To care for the many with mental health struggles, we have to put on thick skin and risk uncomfortable interactions.
It seems easier for many to do little more than pray that God brings relief while they do little to support the individuals in the many practical needs they have.
Super Spiritual Beliefs
“If you just had more faith, then your mental health struggles would fade away.” While many Christians won’t say it that bluntly, many seem to believe that.
Some feel that all mental health struggles are a willful rejection of biblical principles and a failure to remember God’s promises. Prayer walking, contemplative meditation, and faithful church attendance are promoted as the spiritual answers to calm the waves of emotional volatility.
Too often what is heard is, “Do more, try harder”, which leads to even greater despair.
Implying that anyone with mental health struggles doesn’t have a strong faith is cruel, and it fails to recognize the stories of faith that are often found in those who cling to God in their suffering.
Many Christians with mental health struggles fear that this is the result of demonic possession, oppression, and deception. In fact, many churches teach this. If demons are the explanation for why pornography, addictions, and anxiety are struggles, then the conversation about mental illness will leave out many helpful pathways to relief.
If our sin is primarily the work of Satan, then binding him or casting him out would seem to be the best way to find relief. However, this approach is inadequate and leaves many suffering needlessly for years without competent help.
A simple reading of the Bible leads us to believe the demonic is real and seeking to damage and destroy lives mentally, spiritually, and relationally. However, pursuing Christ and living in the truth is seen as a lifelong pursuit that protects us from the evil one.
Many churches and leaders reject those with mental health struggles because of safety concerns for the larger congregation. The reality is most cases pose little to no safety concern at all.
Additionally, disengagement and alienation are often triggers for negative responses. Many churches fail to consider that simple concern and friendship are the best preventative measures that help curtail extreme behaviors. People who feel loved, rarely act in aggressive ways.
I believe we as the church are capable of better responses than the excuses illustrated above.
In this new series, we hope to call churches and Christians to re-engage with the discussion and care for mental health. With a heart of compassion and sound theology as our guide, the church is a critical asset and good science can be an ally in ministry to those with mental health struggles.