On Sunday we were very blessed to have a few experts and professionals in the mental health field come and share with our church on a panel.
We believed it was important to hear from professionals in this area, who have given their lives to healing, caring, and supporting others. Receiving professional help is something that in the evangelical church receives some stigma in some circles but it is absolutely crucial.
So we are grateful to the panel for their discussion, which you can hear on our podcast.
We ended our time together with three simple challenges: welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.
First, as a next step we talked about welcoming and including others with mental health challenges. That this is something we can all practically do in any church you attend. We can create safe spaces for people to journey together, and to include those who often feel excluded by the church.
John Vanier and John Swinton write this,
If the church has anything to offer to people with mental illness (and indeed to anyone else), it is the provision of a space where they can truly feel that they belong.
And I believe that is so true, and absolutely needed.
Kathryn Green McCreight writes,
From a theological perspective, the most dangerous thing about mental illness is that it can lock us in ourselves, convincing us that we are indeed our own, and completely on our own, isolated in our distress.
This is why as churches, as communities of believers, as followers of Jesus we must welcome and include people who are struggling.
The second thing we reminded one another to do was to pray. That praying for others, and letting them know you are praying for them is a tangible reminder of our care and support. In some situations as we journey with people we are not always sure of everything we can do, but one thing we can always do is pray and remind them of that.
Miriam a woman who struggles with mental health writes this:
When you don’t know what to do or say, the one thing you can do is pray and let the person you are praying for know you are. It is a true expression of compassion and Christian love
And lastly, we reminded one another to continue the conversation. That this is the just the beginning and one thing we can do is to continue to learn and listen. We can learn more about mental health, and listen directly from those who are struggling. We can ask how we can help, and take action.
And through these three steps we can start to make a difference and changing the world, by changing someone’s world. As we remember to welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.
On Sunday we are going to be continuing our conversation about mental health. This is a conversation that needs to be continued if we are going to break the stigma and exclusion surrounding it.
Last week we looked at some of the myths surrounding it, and this week we are going to be looking at what we can do as a community.
So to help us with this we are going to do something different, and have a panel of experts and professionals in the field share with us what we as a community can do to help in this area. And while we absolutely need professional’s care, expertise, and necessary work – we as a community are also needed. It is not enough for someone to find healing and stability with just professional intervention, people also need caring and supportive communities. So join with us to learn about mental health from professionals, and also what we as a community can do – to do our part!
So join with us to learn, and discover some next steps for us as a community.
On Sunday we opened up a really important topic: mental health. Mental health is someone that affects huge numbers of people (estimates are around ¼ of people), yet it is one health challenge that has tremendous stigma, exclusion, and a lack of understanding surrounding it. And that’s something we want to change.
So we began by exploring some of the realities of what mental health is. We shared some basic information about three major mental health illnesses. But then to move it away from theory, and “clinical” descriptions I read the following first hand accounts from people struggling with mental health challenges.
“Depression is a very emotive subject for me, especially among people who have never had to live with it. It is that hidden disability that no one really understands fully – least of all those who suffer with it. The symptoms include feeling overwhelmingly tired, angry, emotional and with a need to withdraw from the world around you. Seeking treatment can also make you feel even more depressed as you feel that you are even more of a failure at not being able to get through it on your own.”
William Styron writes in Darkness Visible:
“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”
And Miriam writes:
“As someone with a mental health illness, you get the feeling that somehow you are more difficult to deal with within the institution of the “church”. In a naïve way I believed the church would be open to all. However, my experience makes me feel that I am on the outside of the institution and an embarrassment.”
The truth is that Jesus never turned away from someone in need, so neither can the church.
So to begin this conversation I unpacked 3 myths I see in the Christian world concerning mental health, and then next week we’ll look at how to help and support those with mental health.
The three myths we unpacked were: mental health is caused by sin, mental health can be cured by prayer alone, and mental illness isn’t welcome in the church.
The truth is that we love simple and easy explanations so when it comes to mental health we often reach for those easy solutions: you must have sinned. Yet this reduction of a complex issue that involves emotions, chemical imbalances, physical realties, and social environments to just personal sin that is “God is sending consequences” is directly against the Bible. I know that sounds harsh but in John 9 when the disciples try to reduce someone’s illness to personal sin – Jesus directly confronts them and contradicts their view. So we need to contradict this myth as well.
Secondly, we looked at how mental health is still believed to be cured by prayer alone by 35% of the church. This is also incredibly unhelpful and a myth. I’m not saying I don’t believe in prayer for healing, but that with any other physical illness we not only pray but also seek medical help. But when it comes to mental health there is the myth that prayer, reading your bible, and more self-discipline will be enough. This is simply not true, not helpful, not Biblical (see my sermon on James 5 for more), and needs to be stopped. I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
Thirdly, we looked at how mental illness isn’t welcome in the church. I say this is a myth not because I don’t believe it’s true, or that it doesn’t happen in churches; but that in the church as it’s meant to be this exclusion should never happen. Jesus would never exclude or isolate someone who is hurting. So if we want to follow Jesus, this idea that mental illness isn’t welcome in the church needs to go. Following Jesus requires that we welcome and include especially in this area.
So those are three myths we unpacked, along with the myth that “the church can’t make a difference” in this area, because I believe we can. I believe that if we get serious about journeying with people and supporting them. Yes professionals and health care experts are needed (see next week) but so too are caring communities of support. And that’s what the church can and should be.
Jean Vanier & John Swinton write this,
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health.
So on Sunday to wrap up I gave us one main point and one challenge. The main point was: Mental health is real and we need to address it. And then the challenge to do this was simple this week: to learn more about it. To fight against the stigma, lack of awareness, and exclusion by learning and growing. This is obviously just the first step but it’s a necessary one. And next week we’ll learn how to take another step as a community.
“Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life.” H.R.L. Sheppard (1880-1937)
Big Idea: Mental health is real and we need to address it.
¼ people experience an episode of mental health challenges.
It is not okay to hold prejudice against those with mental health challenges.
Three major mental health illnesses: bipolar, major depression, dissociative identity disorder.
Myth #1: Mental Health Challenges are caused by personal sin and punishment from God.
We cannot reduce the cause of mental illness to sin.
Myth #2: Mental Health Challenges can be cured by prayer alone
I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
Myth #3: Mental Health is not welcome in the church.
We believe that people struggling with anything are welcome in this place
The church is one of, if not the most important thing in combating mental illness and changing it.
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. John Swinton and Jean Vanier
The greater our understanding the greater or depth of care
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What experiences have you had in relation to mental health? Did you realize that mental health was that prevalent? Why do you think it’s important to talk about? What myths have you believed about it, or are still working through? How can you learn more about it this week?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Today learn more about mental health. Look up on the internet for some good discussion guides to talk to your kids, and use one!
On Sunday we are opening up a really really important discussion. We are discussing mental health.
This seems to be a discussion that the church is a little unwilling, or unsure about opening up, but it is an absolutely needed one. Because if we ignore this conversation we end up ignoring and excluding people who are struggling with mental health issues. And one thing Jesus never did – was ignore, exclude, or isolate people needing help, healing, and hope. And this is what we as a church need to be doing as well – giving people healing, help, and hope.
And even though the area of mental health is incredibly complex, it does mean there are areas where we as the church body can help.
John Swinton and Jean Vanier write this:
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. The beginning point for the church’s ministry alongside people with mental illness is the recognition of the power of graceful love. In a special way people with mental illnesses need to hear, see and feel the message of the love, acceptance and graceful forgiveness of Jesus.
I believe this is true, and this is what we are going to seek to do over the next few weeks. On Sunday I’m going to be sharing about mental health, and specifically some of the myths found in Christian circles. Then on the following Sunday we are going to have a panel of experts in the field share with how we can address some of the issues, and more importantly what we can do to help.
So I hope you join with us, because this is one conversation everyone needs to be part of.