Education on mental illness needs to happen within the church.
In the church, it is important to pursue love and to help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, the modern church is failing to do this for those who struggle with mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults will experience mental illness within a given year, meaning that most people will know a family member or a friend who is struggling in this area. As a result, mental illness is affecting members of the church.
Perhaps it is because many of the people who struggle with mental illness are strong believers. As a community, the church believes that God heals. Deliverance does not always come immediately, and since mental illness is an uncomfortable topic that takes time and effort to heal from, many church leaders do not know what to do. Many people are simply told to “pray away” their torment, however, this can lead to tragedy.
An example of mental illness and the church can be found in Christianity Today. The author, Ed Stetzer, states that in his early years of being a pastor he knew a man who suffered from bipolar disorder. The man prayed hard and loved the Lord but eventually died by suicide.
Tragedies such as these stem from “misunderstandings” about mental illness. These misconceptions can come from not understanding what produces mental illness. Mental illness can be caused by many things including a chemical imbalance in someone’s brain. Take, for instance, anxiety. WebMD states that anxiety originates from changes in an individual’s brain, environmental stress and genetics. People need to be educated on the fact that mental illness is more than just an emotion, as this will help them to understand how a person with a mental illness feels.
There are multiple factors that can cause a person to have a mental illness, and unless it is diagnosed by a professional, it can be hard to detect possible treatments.
This does not mean that every person’s mental health journey is the same, and it doesn’t have to be. However, people need to know about available resources and that they are in a loving community. They should know that it’s okay to seek out counseling or to go on medication. The church should also be their to support them through pastoral care.
Only 27 percent of churches have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, LifeWay states. This needs to change. Pastors need education on what mental illness is and how to deal with it appropriately. The stigma needs to be broken down and it needs to be talked about in the church.
Once a church begins to talk about mental illness, it needs to be careful about the language it uses, for many mental illnesses can be confused with emotional states. For example, there is a difference between being anxious and being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Feeling anxious or worried is an emotion and will eventually fade away. Anxiety disorder is something that impedes an individual’s daily life and is caused by more than just emotions. This distinction can help people feel loved and accepted in the church. It can also help the community become more open to pastoral care and about their own situation.
The stigma around mental illness comes down to education, as it can help a person develop empathy and understanding. Education can help steer the church away from being uncomfortable when talking about mental illness and can help them to love their neighbor as themselves.