The Three Most Common Frustrations of Mental Health in the Church
When talking with members of the church and Christian counselors about mental health issues, there are three common frustrations that come up over and over. Christianity is undergoing a slow but steady change in the handling of mental illness and struggle, but there are still many misunderstandings. Those trying to help members of the church can instead grow frustrated and distant, only compounding the issue.
To help resolve these issues, Mental Health Grace Alliance recently tried to pick apart these three common frustrations and understand how we can work to help offer better support to those in need, while still offering them the guidance of the lord.
Spiritual Stigma – While things are changing, one of the biggest hurdles for Christians suffering from mental illness and those trying to help them is the stigma within the church. Mental illness is fluid and usually requires individualized treatment in support, which unfortunately doesn’t fit within most pastoral staff members’ ministry methods. When these don’t work, they often slip back into old ways of handling these issues, which normally place the blame on the individuals suffering.
When pastoral staff don’t know how to handle a person’s mental illness, it is all too common for them to believe the illness is growing out of sin, weak faith, or even demonic forces. Their responses in these cases involve either backing away from the situation, or heavily increasing ministering to help retrain the patient to believe harder, or fix their faith. While I’ve talked about these issues before, it seems this can’t be stated enough: in time of mental health struggles, blaming a patient for their own maladies is pretty much the worst way of handling the situation. Blaming their faith (or percieved lack thereof) is more damaging to their spirit and connection with God than any other way of solution possible.
Spiritual Quick Fix or Miracles – Getting back to times when church members use over zealous emphasis on “fixing” beliefs through increased bible study, prayer, or even searching for a miracle to heal the patients spirit. When we do this, we give the idea to the person struggling that they aren’t capable of overcoming their own mental health issues. If we look for miracles, we put our faith and energy not into helping this person overcome their trials, but asking for a spiritual flash of healing. Miracles are possible, but we shouldn’t hope for them in our individual times of struggle. We should put our faith, and Godly love into helping those around us directly and uplifting their spirits so that the light of God can more readily fill their hearts.
Spiritual Baby Steps – This last frustration ties into the first two in that often there is a belief that through God or even counseling, mental health can be rapidly recovered from. Miracles are hoped for because they would solve the problem immediately, and unfortunately that is rarely, if ever, the case. The reality of mental health recovery is that it is a slow process more akin to learning how to walk or ride a bike than it is an illness you can quickly treat with antibiotics.
The ministry has a fine line to walk when trying to offer support to those dealing with mental illness, but there is a purpose and place for God in treatment, support, and recovery. What matters is how you show the light to the patient. Blaming the illness on weak faith only adds more guilt and shame to the patient’s already struggling psyche. Telling them they will be cured through God removes personal responsibility to work towards real recovery. However, if you stand as a beacon of Christ’s love and hospitality as you accept the patient’s issues, and stand beside them to support them as they find their path back to health, they will see the unlimited possibilities God’s light offers for themselves, firsthand.