The Relationship Between Church and Mental Illness
Many religions have issues reconciling mental illness with the plan of a higher power. More than once, I’ve heard Christians say people with mental illness are actually suffering from a lack of faith, as if believing harder will somehow make them better.
Why would anyone put blame onto people already struggling? Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns asked this same question, and found that there is no validation out there for people blaming mental illnesses on lack of faith.
It is well documented that mental illness often results from chemical imbalances in the brain, or other times, traumatic experiences throughout their life. Even more so, the Bible never suggests that mental disease or disorders could somehow be the victim’s own fault.
If anything, the Bible shows glimpses of individuals who may have been dealing with mental health problems. Stephenson himself points to the author of Psalm 88, who laments being trapped in a “bottomless pit,” and writes lines such as “for as long as I remember I’ve been hurting. You made lover and neighbor alike dump me; the only friend I have left is Darkness.” That sure sounds like depression to me.
So how do we understand mental illness in the scope of a higher power? There really is no way to fully understand. The “reasons” behind mental illness are as comprehensible as any other type of tragic disease. We don’t blame the victim of tuberculosis for falling victim, do we?
Instead of focusing on understanding the grand scheme behind mental disorders, what is more important is how you deal with those suffering. Pitying those with mental illnesses makes them feel less than human, just as treating someone stuck in a wheelchair as different in meaningful ways is offensive to their cognitive and physical abilities.
Don’t pity or condemn those facing mental illness. Instead, healthy churches make sure the victims of mental illness do not face it alone. Bring them the love of God, not as a “cure” to their illness, but as a comfort that comes with a community of caring people. If they are too depressed to cook, bring them meals. If they feel alone, try to bring them to church social events, or if that is uncomfortable for them, just give them occasional phone calls or visits.
If you condemn those already faced with the embarrasment and stigma associated with mental illness, they will only feel worse about their condition. Instead, help them see they are loved by members of the church, and try to show them the support healthy churches are known for.