By Madeline Twooney, Crosswalk.com
I suffer from mental illness. I have lived with depression for most of my life. Three years ago, l was additionally diagnosed with burnout and anxiety.
Living with mental illness is like a psychological war-of-wills waging in your mind, and you are on the losing side. Thoughts of despair, hopelessness, and fear prey on you constantly. They intimidate you, scream at you, and wear you down until all you want to do is give up.
Mental illness is on the rise: According to statistics, it affects 18-20% of people globally. That is 1 in every 4 people.
With the recent tragic suicide of Pastor Jarrid Wilson, churches are being confronted with the need to take definitive action in supporting those who suffer from mental illness—both in and outside of its communities.
I am blessed to attend a church that supports me during my recovery, and it is very much on my heart that other mental health sufferers experience that same level of support.
Therefore, here are nine ways the church can support people with mental illness:
1. Keep Church a Safe Place
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1
Feeling comfortable and accepted in your church is of foremost priority—for everyone. However, for a mental health sufferer, church is especially a refuge from what we perceive to be a hostile world. We struggle with everyday issues like leaving the house, going out to work, or even sitting amidst strangers on public transport. Depressive episodes can leave us feeling hopeless and in despair for days or even weeks at a time.
For that reason, it is important that church is a safe place for us, a solid rock under our feet amidst the quicksand of fears and insecurities that plague our lives. At church, we can receive spiritual succor, prayer, and the hope of deliverance from our maladies. We can be accepted as individuals, and not be treated as just another medical case.
2. Educate the Congregation
“Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” – Proverbs 9:9
A few weeks ago, in church, the pastor addressed depression in his sermon by stating that we should pray for those who needed healing, rather than neglect them. l was incredibly moved that the issue of mental illness was being addressed directly from the pulpit.
About two years ago, it was evident to me that people in my church weren’t aware of how detrimental mental illness is. A few acquaintances had even said to me, “You don’t look sick!” Was l supposed to wear a cast around my head?
However, lately, l have seen that educating our church corporately about mental illness is not only raising awareness, it is providing our congregation with vital insight into what sufferers are going through.
Churches can educate its leaders through seminars, information evenings, and talks from visiting mental health experts.
3. Talk about Mental Illness
“But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” – Job 16:5
Approaching someone in church about their mental health issues is no easy task: I understand that people are afraid to cross personal boundaries, and l respect that.
However, is it possible that stereotypical portrayals are preventing others from talking about mental illness with us?
Therefore, to dissolve stigmatizations and lower barriers between sufferers and non-sufferers, let us find ways to normalize conversations about mental illness and even mental health care in church.
For example, these subjects can be discussed in small groups. The church can also use its social media handles to raise mental health awareness. Our church co-hosts a regular podcast titled “Let’s have a coffee,” where local church leaders get together to talk about issues that affect the church today.
4. Pray for those Who Struggle with Mental Illness
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16
Last Sunday, a friend immediately offered to pray with me, after hearing that l had been having a difficult week with depression and headaches.
For me, having someone pray with me and even for me re-ignites my faith in the power of God to heal, for with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). It reminds me to keep my eyes on God when l hear the negative doctor’s reports or suffer from side effects of taking medication.
To offer consistent prayers for those struggling with mental illness, churches could hold prayer evenings and even organize prayer buddies.
Additionally, you can offer to get together with someone struggling with mental illness and pray together. You can even pray with them over the phone or include their requests in your private prayer time.
5. Befriend Us
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9
People struggling with mental illness live lonely lives. Our homes are our refuge, however at the same time they can be our prison.
One of the reasons l enjoy going to church is to breach the isolation l live in during the week. It’s my weekly opportunity to be amongst people, in a safe environment.
Offering fellowship to people with mental disorders will provide them with necessary companionship, help them practice social acclimatization, and offer support.
In short: we need friends.
Therefore, if you know someone in your church who is struggling with mental illness, extend the hand of friendship towards them. Let them know that instead of being forced to watch life pass them by from behind the bars of their mental and physical prisons, there is a place in the world for them.
6. Offer Counseling
“to be made new in the spirit of your minds.” – Ephesians 4:23
Our church now offers marriage counselling, which is great. However, what about offering counseling for those with mental illness?
Counselling and support groups for family members and loved ones could be conducted in-house by existing members of the congregation, who have professional experience with mental illness.
Alternatively, the church could contact local mental health organizations and bring in experts to offer counselling and give seminars on mental awareness and self-care. A helpline would also be extremely beneficial.
7. Build Faith
“So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” – 1 Corinthians 2:5
Doctors tell me regularly how sick l am. Statistics state that there is an 85% possibility of me having a relapse on the off chance that l do recover from chronic depression.
Whereas the world is always trying to get me to focus on my health problems, l go to church to focus on God.
I am so grateful that my church regularly gives praise reports on healing; it reinforces my faith that if God has healed others, He will heal me as well, for He does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). Without my faith, l would drown in the murky pit of despair and hopelessness that chronic depression psychologically causes.
Church needs to be a place that renews everyone’s faith – the sick, the healthy, the lost, and the saved. That way, we can stay constantly connected to the source of our hope, joy, and salvation.
8. Look after Our Pastors
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” – Hebrews 13:17
Mental illness can affect anyone. Even pastors are not immune. The recent tragic passing of Pastor Jarrid Wilson is evidence of that. Unfortunately, his situation is not an isolated one.
I sometimes think that we as church members underestimate how many responsibilities and pressures pastors manage. Additionally, they are men and women with private lives that also require their attention.
Therefore, instead of cornering pastors after Sunday services and barraging them with critiques of their sermons, we need to give them a break. Instead of criticizing them, we should be supporting them. After all, pastors can’t cater an entire congregation and serve God at the same time (Matthew 6:24).
Most importantly, we should pray regularly for our pastor’s well- being, their families, and for wise leadership over their churches.
9. Extend the Church’s Support into the Community
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” – Proverbs 3:27
There are many people with mental health issues who don’t know God. Jesus founded the church so that all may come to know of His message of hope and salvation (Ephesians 4:11-13). Hence, it is important that the church not only supports those in its congregations who suffer from mental illness, but also those who are outside of them.
There are numerous Christian mental health organizations that offer support for those afflicted with mental disorders. For example, Pastor Jarrid Wilson and his wife Juli founded the outreach group Anthem of Hope in 2016.
Churches can also extend their counseling to reach the local community, as well as encourage people to come to church through street ministry. Additionally, church leaders can come together to offer a network of support that can spans cities, and even countries.
Finally, you as an individual can also support those who struggle with mental illness. Galatians 2:20 states that Christ lives in us. You can be a source of light to someone who resides mentally in the dark: You can visit an elderly neighbor who is depressed after losing their spouse, or sit with a colleague who looks down during your lunchbreak. You could even send a text to someone. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to make a difference. Just showing someone you care is enough.
These nine suggestions for how the church can support people with mental illness are founded on my own church experiences and struggles with chronic depression. My perception of support may be different to others, and that is ok, for there is no right or wrong way of supporting those with mental illness.
What is important, is that sufferers know they don’t need to fight this mental battle alone.
Madeline Twooney is a Christian writer and co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog. She has written articles for SheLoves, Converge, and Ruminate Magazine and is a contributing writer for Christianity.com and YMI Magazine. In her spare time, Madeline gets creative as a freelance SFX Makeup artist and dances to Sister sledge whilst cooking. She is British but lives in Germany with her husband and their one-eared pussycat. You can contact Madeline at [email protected]or [email protected]
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Madeline Twooney is a Christian writer and the co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog. She was born in England, was raised in Australia, and currently lives in Germany with her husband Solomon. Madeline is in recovery from burnout, chronic depression, and anxiety. She believes that God can take life’s adversities and work them out for His good; hence, she uses her writing voice to raise awareness of mental illness, as well as to spread the light of God’s love to those who are mentally trapped in the dark, and provide them with hope and encouragement.