Mental health requires a holistic approach that includes the church. There is both an individual and corporate level of responsibility in overcoming mental health stigmas. We must, as a church body, be committed to reaching out to those who have felt abandoned and dismissed by the false beliefs we’ve contributed to.
According to Webster, stigma is “a mark of shame or discredit.” Its more archaic definition is “a scar left by a hot iron: a brand.” Stigma is not something an individual chooses but rather the result of a label given. In other words, a negative stereotype.
In order for the church to overcome stereotypes, it is important to understand why it is held. When you can identify and examine the wrongly held assumptions, the power behind the stereotype is diminished. This then frees you to identify and evaluate the reason behind the belief.
For instance, the ‘60s and ‘70s brought us an anti-psychiatric movement in the Christian community, beliefs that we are still feeling the repercussions of. Read more from the Baylor University Study Demon or Disorder: A Survey of Attitudes Toward Mental Illness in the Christian Church to understand what type of an impact that movement, as well as other beliefs, have had on how we have treated mental illness within the church. Understanding where we detoured from God’s Word regarding the care and compassion for ALL of creation will help us realign our focus on the greatest commandment given.
The next step in education is to understand the truths around mental illness. It is important as a congregation to create alliances with local mental health organizations and use the educational resources from organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, Mental Health America and others. Until we are willing to understand mental health, we cannot be a source of light to those affected by it.
As a church, we must create an environment of authenticity and vulnerability. This begins with the leaders. When leaders share their stories, others follow. To truly understand one another, we must be honest about our struggles and also be willing to hear the struggles of others.
Listen in as Pastor Nicole shares her own struggle with mental illness in the Shattered Sermon Series.
Never forget that we are in this together. We are called to be united and to show one another how truly loved by God we all are. 1 Peter 4:10-11 (MSG) says, “Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything — encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!”
Our stories are a gift that we can give one another in encouragement. They bond us to one another as we walk through suffering and victories together. Hearing one another’s stories, really hearing, and being vulnerable enough to tell our own will bond us together and move us toward the unity we were called to live in.
The best way to overcome any stigma or negative stereotype is to actually do life with the people you hold negative beliefs about. Your new experiences will challenge your preconceptions. You’ll see God in places and in people you never thought to look before. In fact, you’ll fall in love with the very people you once crossed the street to avoid.
Learn more about Centerpoint Church’s commitment to overcoming mental health stigmas in the church at www.centerpointfl.org/mental-health.