Making the church a more open place for addressing mental health issues

O Lord, my every desire is before You;

my groaning is not hidden from You.

My heart pounds, my strength fails,

and even the light of my eyes has faded.

My beloved and friends shun my disease,

and my kinsmen stand at a distance.

Psalm 38:9-11 Berean Study Bible

Many people in our churches can relate to this psalmist’s anguish. They understand suffering and feel as though others keep them at a distance.

Why? 

Because for too long we have refused to address the mental health issue in our midst. It is time to walk alongside our sisters and brothers.But we must do so wisely. 

Men and women have kept silent because of the stigmas within our churches regarding mental health. They are afraid that if they speak up and ask for help they will be shunned or removed from ministry positions that bring purpose and joy to their lives. Following are a few ways we can address this fear and walk alongside those suffering.

  1. Start the conversation — Church leaders must take the initiative to begin the conversation and do so in a way that brings clarity and not harm. This needs to happen in both private settings and in sermons. Remove harmful language that adds to the stigma. Put a stop to jokes that belittle mental health issues and provide education around the facts to all who worship with you.

  2. Be holistic in the approach — Spiritual, emotional and physical health play into treatment for mental illness. By leaning too heavily on one over the other, harm can be done. Just as it takes a team of qualified professionals to address a physical illness, it takes a team made of spiritual leaders, counselors and doctors to treat mental illness. Teaching that depression or anxiety only requires prayer and faith is not helpful to the one suffering.

  3. Provide access to mental health professionals — Churches can provide physical space for biblical counseling professionals to offer services on their campuses. While most pastors are not trained to provide these services, there are often members in the congregation or nearby counseling offices that can be partnered with. Funds can be raised to help those who can not afford the sessions to receive the help they need.

We can all learn from those who walk through mental illness. After all, David left us his words of anguish in the Psalms, Job felt as though it would be better that he had never been born, and Elijah wanted to die. For those who have grown up in the church, we’ve heard stories our whole lives about these men of faith. Somehow we glossed over the fact that they had mental health issues of their own. 

There are lessons to be learned from suffering. Those who live with the burden of mental illness are not weaker or less than those who do not. They are stronger for what they battle, and the rest of us have a lot to learn from them. 

It is time to start treating mental health with the same tenderness and love we show those who have been diagnosed with cancer or chronic pain. It’s time to start listening because we’ve got a lot to learn.