It is no secret that the church or faith-based community encounters major barriers when it comes to dealing with the issue of mental health. As an advocate, I know how vital it is for those affected by a mental disorder to have unrestricted access to their support system.
As a minister, I am aware of how important it is for believers to be able to rely on their faith for hope and healing. However, I am also not naïve to the stigma that the church; clergy included, show towards those dealing with either an acute or chronic illness.
When I speak at churches specifically about mental health, one of the main barriers that I have to remove is the very stigmatized concept of the term “mental illness”.
Most Christians who are affected by a mental disorder such as anxiety, depression or overwhelmed by grief view themselves as separate from another person who is receiving treatment or counseling for that same disorder.
Then there is the stigma that mental illness only refers to those that are considered psychotic or schizoid. People of faith tend to think that they are excluded from being placed in the category of being mentally ill.
Of course, one might argue that they have never been mentally ill, but my perspective on this is that anyone and everyone experience some form of a mental disorder within their lifetime. Here is my justification:
The opposite of being healthy is being ill or sick. If someone is physically sick, whether they have a common cold or the flu, they are still ill. Sort of like someone who is dealing with either depression due to grief or someone who has been diagnosed with clinical depression, both are still currently not healthy in their minds. A major difference is the length of their depression, as well as, other significant factors.
Yes, I’m aware that all mental disorders cannot and should not be placed in the same category level. But I believe that the more the term “mental illness” is used in general will help those in the faith-based community break the stigma barrier attached to it.
Stigma is a major barrier that I discussed throughout my book of mental health memoirs, “Keeping My Faith While Saving My Mind”. I also want to share three barriers that I expound on in the book that contribute to the problem why many congregants fail to receive mental health treatment.
3 Barriers to Mental Health Treatment in the Church
- Lack of Responsibility. There is a passive approach taken in many churches when it comes to actively helping hurting people. Many congregations feel it is someone else responsibility to help those dealing with a crisis. They tend to not take action and leave it to church leadership or authorities to discover there is a problem. But in many cases, it is laity who first encounter a hurting person. If a church member is unable to help a person because they are simply not equipped to do, they need to find out who in their church has been charged with the task to do so or who coordinates such efforts.
- Lack of Understanding. The natural response that faith believers give to those dealing with minor or major, acute or chronic mental health problems is prayer. As a Christian believer, I definitely believe and know there is power in prayer; however, the Bible tells us to “…therefore get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). But within the church, after a minister or layperson has prayed, they believe that is all they are required or responsible for doing. This is not the case. Someone dealing with a severe case of depression needs more than just prayer. They also need help and resources. Someone or a specific ministry should be responsible for connecting said person to such resources.
- Lack of Training. Clergy or ministers are usually the main person who deals with people affected by a crisis situation or even mental health problem. Millions of people seek the church for help on a weekly basis, but unfortunately, the church is not always in a position to help them. If a church does not have a professional on staff or volunteer or someone trained to help someone dealing with depression, domestic violence or suicidal ideation, then they need to have someone trained to temporarily assist or at least be educated on the relevance of these issues so they can assist the person to get the necessary help they need.
Removing these barriers will allow intervention to occur in the lives of those hurting from various issues within churches.
Have you successfully received help from a church when you were experiencing emotional disturbances?
Does your church intentionally reach out to help those in various crises?