How Can The Church Reach Out To Those With Serious Mental Illness?
For the average able-bodied or able-minded people, trying to minister or counsel people with serious mental illness can often be difficult. While psychiatrists can be trained on how to communicate and craft their treatments to people with serious mental illness (SMI), many average, normally kind people will withdraw or act negatively towards those with SMI.
The church especially seems to have this problem. When Phil Monroe was having a discussion with two University of Pennsylvania faculty, he found that they all felt the church was not very supportive or accepting of those with SMI. Additionally, mental health professionals don’t seem to be very supportive of the faiths of SMI patients.
One would hope the church would already recognize the spiritual and emotional needs of those dealing with tragic mental health conditions, and similarly I would expect mental health professionals to see the benefit a supportive group of church goers could have, so it is rather unfortunate to hear neither seem to be helping SMI patients find support in religious institutions.
Monroe doesn’t seem to have any answers. The best he offers is that “we ought to start with making it okay to admit struggles with mental illness…” While he is completely correct, and that would be a good first step, the solutions may be hidden in much simpler questions Monroe asks.
“Any thoughts on what a helpful church strategy to help someone with SMI be a key member of the community? What kind of help should the church offer for the long haul?”
By the way his commenters responded, you would think no one has ever bothered to ask. By their accounts, it sounds like the church really has failed to come to terms with SMI so far. Numerous commenters share stories of being told their illness was a manifestation of sins, demons, or poor SMI victims being told their sickness wasn’t real.
The most basic desire they all ask for is a basic understanding of serious mental illness within the church. One commenter named Tammy says, “one of the best things that the church could do is treat us like people.”
After hearing the stories of so many individuals coping with SMI in themselves or within their families, the overriding solution to many of the problems is better informing the public about the realities of serious mental illness. If the church shows such continuous belief that mental illness is not a real serious sickness that afflicts people with thoughts and feeling equal their own, it is safe to assume the general public is still badly educated about the reality of SMI.
Informing the church and the public as a whole about SMI, and more importantly, educating the public that those with SMI are not somehow broken or less than normal people is the most important step we can take in helping them find the support they so badly need outside of clinics and institutions. Shouldn’t they be able to find the support they need in the church?