Church Support for Mental Health

mental-illness-sketch-2Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

  • Listen and learn from those with mental illness: educate the congregation esp about mental illness and addiction. What are the symptoms, the root causes, and what can you do to support someone who struggles with issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, borderline, manic depression and self-harm?
  • Talk about mental illness and provide forums for people to ask dangerous questions
  • Pray and keep on praying. But allow for God to work in ways other than sudden, instantaneous recovery!
  • Provide seminars, bibliographies, info about support groups, and interdenominational info and speakers
  • Attend support meetings geared to specific disorders
  • Remind those struggling – a broken mind does not necessarily mean a broken soul
  • Build relationships with professionals in these areas so that you can refer in times of crisis.
  • Avoid using loaded words e.g; ‘mad’ – esp. from the pulpit
  • Encourage counselling and physical examination
  • Build trust e.g; by encouraging small group confidentiality, providing a safe space for people to talk and taking issues seriously
  • Anticipate crises, meet concrete needs and be ready to offer ongoing, long-term support.
  • Minister to family members and carers and where possible, work with professionals
  • help set realistic goals
  • Offer space for people to grieve for what has happened. Be prepared too for anger or depression.
  • Offer to pray with those who are struggling and help them to find consistent ongoing support (including financial). Does your church provide prayer partners, deacons, spiritual directors, pastoral counsellors or ongoing support groups? Is this something you could offer?
  • Recognise that progress may take a long time and often includes setbacks.
  • Where appropriate (and this includes the pulpit), be honest about the fact that Christians struggle (including you)
  • Reincorporate sufferers back into church, eg; by building confidence and helping them them to use their gifts (in small and non-pressured environments).  Remind them that they are valuable and wanted.
  • When preaching or offering pastoral care, be specific in what you suggest.  Do not just tell persons to ‘trust God’ or ‘put God first’  – show them how to develop practices that will enable them to be more aware of God and to grow their faith.  Ask them and their families to help you and the congregation by sharing what they have learned from living with these struggles.
  • think about assigning people in your congregation to check in on those struggling eg; with depression.  Remember that there may be different reasons why people can’t attend services; especially if they are anxious or feeling low. Think about ways you could make this easier – e.g; by providing transport/company or visiting where they are.
  • Sponsor support groups in your church for specific target populations.  Offer a general support group for people in transition and invite a person who has successfully recovered to be a co-facilitator.Use their skills to aid you in your own pastoral care efforts with others in crisis.
  • Point sufferers back to Jesus – and before you do anything, go to Him yourself.

..what else?



12 thoughts on “Church Support for Mental Health

  1. the first church i went to taught me that no matter what and no matter who, that church was a family, and everyone loved everyone.
    my last church taught me that if you were different, then noone cared, and noone even was bothered.
    i now dare not go to another church in case i am left on the outside cos of my illness.

  2. I think that not having an unofficial time limit: there’s sometimes an idea that once you’ve looked (or even been) OK for 2 years, you should no longer require help.

    I don’t really know how you prevent that, but it’s something I’ve seen hiding within people’s attitudes.

  3. Don’t stop being there for support. I find a lot of the time after so long people kind of decide that you’reok now and can handle it all alone. It means when you slip back a bit it can be really hard to get support from the same people again.

  4. I think regarding Julie’s comment- as well as not expecting someone to be ok because they’ve been better for a couple of years, also realising that, while God always heals, he doesn’t always do so this side of heaven. For some that means never walking again, and for others it means they will battle with mental illness as long as they are here. Paul talks about rejoicing in all circumstances- we often think depression or anxiety are marks of not rejoicing but sometimes they are the circumstances in which we need to learn rejoice.

  5. Always, always remember that mental illness is just that – an illness. It’s just less obvious than a plaster cast on an ankle or whatever.
    In our area the referral process for mental health services is being streamlined and standardised, the idea being that it will be similar over the whole country in due course. Therefore particularly at this time of ‘transition’, take the opportunity to find out how the new scheme is going to work so that it’s easy to refer/encourage referral.

  6. Once bitten, twice shy. It can take a long time for someone who looked “normal” to reveal their struggles. Try to be calm and interested. Avoid intense, overbearing, shock or instantly launching into prayer for healing. It may take even longer for full details to be revealed, or the person may feel intensely embarrassed to have said anything and may never bring it up again – bringing the issue up occasionally to check response is okay, but please don’t pull “that face” everytime you see them, and ask “How *are* you?” Sometimes a different topic of conversation is ok! We’re not aliens, we’re just like you – broken and in need of a Saviour.

  7. Create a culture that allows for people to own an identity other than their illness. I have a friend with severe depression/anxiety at church and used to not talk to her about anything day to day (eg. Movies, holidays,
    especially not food as struggles with that too etc.) as I thought this would be unhelpful…it’s now clear to me that such normalcy is critical to people being able to break out of their illness at times, and enjoy just being with others, without their illness hanging around like a shadow.

  8. This is a excellent list! Now, if we could just find some healthy people to implement it…
    By definition Christianity is for people who have realized something is amiss inside. I actually have never met a person whom I did not believe was suffering from some form of mental trouble. Of course, where I am in America, we have a syndrome for pretty much every stage of life, and an official diagnosis is almost as easy to get as bottle of aspirin. My brother (a pastor) says he is in recovery from being born. I believe broken people are awesome at helping other broken people. We can support and encourage each other as we walk along this road called life. Sometimes stumbling and falling , but then getting back up again. This is easier to do while our friends cheer us on (and us for them in our turn). I am my brothers keeper. (Now, I say this as someone who rarely places a toenail inside a church except for weddings, funerals, seminars, and when Ravi Zacharias comes to town) So I would add only one thing to your list: maybe crazy people need to go to church because there’s a bunch of crazy people there who need us! (is ‘crazy’ better or worse than ‘mad’?)

  9. Thanks Emma. Really sensitive & well thought out suggestions. Now if everyone who read it could just print/email this on to their Church Leaders, Pastoral Care Leaders etc etc…. Maybe the Church would be able to understand those who suffer from mental health issues better & maybe they could contribute to loving them in their illness by helping in ways you have suggested.

  10. Have a look at the UKCP….United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapists – new book written recently called. “Psychotherapy & Spiritual Direction – Two languages, One voice” by Lynette Harbourne. Written by a Christian who is also a Psychotherapis based in London.
    It would be great to have this support in the church too.

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