The church and mental health – playing our part in a very real struggle
May is Mental Health Awareness Month in these United States. The term “mental health” is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community.”[ref]World Health Organization quote, WHO website, Concepts in Mental Health: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response[/ref]
Though this WHO definition reads very positively, the term “mental health” carries a negative connotation for many. The vast majority of people struggling with some form of mental illness do not seek treatment due to the stigma attached to it. The misconception that people with such issues are crazy remains a barrier too difficult for some to overcome.
Yet the mental health struggle is real, as numerous studies show. For example, the Global Youth Culture study shows that U.S. teens are suffering a mental health crisis. Asked about their experiences in the three months prior to the survey, 60% reported experiencing depression, 66% reported high anxiety, 75% reported feelings of loneliness, and 35% reported having had suicidal thoughts.[ref]Global Youth Culture Study: https://onehope.net/crisismode-guide/[/ref]
Anxiety and Depression
The two most common issues people face globally are anxiety and depression, which can cause tremendous challenges for these individuals and their families, not to mention the economic costs, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars annually!
And that was before the pandemic. Since 2020 mental health issues have risen to epidemic levels, manifested in various ways, including the alarming increase in public outbursts of anger and gun violence.
Thankfully, just as “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” (Romans 5:20), the mental health crisis is being met by an avalanche of support from all segments of society, including Christian organizations, schools, and local churches.
Christian Outreach Platforms
The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the world’s largest organization of its kind, is leading the way in training mental health coaches and counselors, enlisting thousands in its first responder training since the pandemic!
AACC also seeks to leverage this resource toward local churches, and by extension, to local communities. Its trainees are being encouraged to establish mental health ministry in their local church to more effectively meet the needs of people in the pews.
The next step involves a new outreach platform called Gloo, which is designed to connect local churches with their surrounding communities. Secular society as a whole no longer looks to the church for guidance in times of crisis, but people are still asking: Will the church help? Can Jesus make a difference? Gloo is helping churches respond, not just with a resounding “Yes!”, but with a pathway for hurting people to get to the church and find the help they need.[ref]Gloo website: https://www.gloo.us/[/ref]
Mental Health Courses Offered by Artios
Christian colleges are also on the ball, offering courses and programs in this field of study. Artios Christian College’s PSY 311 The Church and Mental Health, is set to begin in late May. Look up the course description, and while you’re at it, check out LEA 211 The Leader’s Emotional Health, and PSY 321 Principles of Counseling.
By the way, these courses aren’t just for pastors; they’re available to all members of the church. Taking the mental health course could be one of the best things you’ve ever done, a spiritual investment with eternal dividends.
Whether church or college or organization, the goal is the same: to raise awareness, to lower the stigma, and to create networks of care.
A Spiritual Battle for the Minds
Mental health emphasis is likely to provide opportunities for meaningful conversations about the realness of the struggle. Not only is the struggle real, but we are at war! Beyond the observable issues, the deeper problem in mental illness is a spiritual battle for the mind.
The good news is that Jesus’ kingdom agenda has this in mind, which is why He is called “Wonderful Counselor,” and “Great Physician,” and why after Jesus healed the demon-possessed man, Mark was careful to note that the man was “seated, clothed, and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15, emphasis mine).
Yes, the struggle is real! There’s a battle going on. Let’s raise awareness, fueled by the good news that Jesus is onto this!
Moreover, let’s do all we can to lower the stigma. This struggle knows no boundaries—age, faith, social, economic, or otherwise. Sheila Walsh’s story is a classic example. At the height of her career as co-host of the 700 Club, she walked off the set one day and checked herself into a psych ward at a local hospital.Let’s do all we can to lower the stigma. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet
Not a Lack of Faith
Sheila Walsh’s story helps lower the stigma, for if this can happen to a Christian celebrity, it can happen to any of us. Christians often associate mental health needs with a lack of faith. Sheila’s story debunks that theory.
It turned out she was suffering from clinical depression, stemming from trauma which goes all the way back to the ghastly death of her father when she was only five. Thankfully, Sheila had the courage to admit she needed help. Today, she’s doing well and is sharing her testimony, thanks to psychiatry, medication, and the loving support of family and the Body of Christ.
Hope and Light
Speaking of Christ’s Body, it’s been said that the Church is to be a place of hope and light for people groping in the darkness of mental illness. Not to replace what psychiatrists and counselors do so well, but to simply be the triage or spiritual ER to which people turn for love and encouragement.The Church is to be a place of hope and light for people groping in the darkness of mental illness. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet
As this happens, networks of care will emerge. In some circles it will be a recovery ministry of some kind. In others it will just be a small group of believers ready to meet people where they are, to provide a safe space in which to engage and experience healing and wholeness.
Mental Health Is Part of Our Well-being
The World Health Organization’s definition of mental health goes on to say that it is “an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships, and shape the world we live in.”[ref]World Health Organization ending quote, WHO website, Concepts in Mental Health: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response[/ref]
This brings the story of the demon-possessed man back to mind. It’s an extreme example (for there’s no necessary correlation between mental health and demonic possession), yet one wonders what triggered the condition that led to this man’s unusual circumstances. That, we do not know. But what we do know is that he was wonderfully set free!
And when he sought to just hang out with Jesus, he was directed instead to his family and community. Having been cut off from society for so long, he now had relationships to build, and a whole new world to shape!
Compassion for the Broken
That’s the end goal of mental wellness, but it requires many people, Christians especially, playing their part in this very real struggle. May Jesus’ compassion for this broken man be reflected in our response to the needs of people around us, and may Mark’s closing comment about the demoniac give us much motivation: “And he departed and began to proclaim in the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.”
Acknowledgement: The title for this article draws upon the title of the new book by AACC’s president, Tim Clinton: The Struggle is Real: How to Care for Mental and Relational Health Needs in the Church.
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