The church’s changing view of mental illness
The realities of mental illness have been largely overlooked historically by churches in America. Even in recent times, mental illness is occasionally associated with a lack of faith or sin among communities of faith. One psychiatrist recalled a woman, who was managing well with the help of medication, that ceased to take her medication at the advise of her Pastor. The Pastor told her that she was cursed because of her sin and this was why she was suffering from depression. As a result, the woman stopped taking her medication and threw herself down a flight of stairs. Another woman, after recalling her mother’s challenges with mental illness, felt isolated from her church stating, “I had a deep prayer life but could not talk to anyone at church about my mothers problems… I wondered if God had forgotten about us.”
The good news is that things are changing. Churches across the nation are beginning to see faith as an instrument for recovery for those suffering from mental illness. The following is an excerpt of an article from the Chicago Tribune that discusses the changes that have and are occurring in the church’s position on mental illness:
The National Council of Churches USA has produced a documentary called “Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness,” which has aired on ABC-TV stations nationwide. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism spoke out against insurance discrimination during the High Holidays, and Pope Benedict XVI used World Day of the Sick to focus on the disease.
That message “was the catalyst for renewed Catholic outreach,” said Connie Rakitan, chair of the Chicago Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness.
Pathways to Promise, a national interfaith organization that promotes understanding for the mentally ill, is using a $90,000 grant from the American Psychiatric Foundation to launch an anti-stigma campaign aimed at some 26,000 U.S. churches and synagogues. The goal of the new campaign is to chip away at misperceptions by providing support and resources.
“We’re just emerging from a time when people feared this disease because they didn’t understand it,” said Rev. Bob Dell of Sandwich in DeKalb County. Dell, who has a 49-year-old son with schizoaffective disorder, has channeled his energy into Pathways to Promise after retiring from parish ministry with United Church of Christ.