Mental Illness and the Church
January 16, 2013 10 Comments
Recently I ran across a blog post about the church and its “disability” to handle mental disabilities. I thought it was a great blog. However as a pastor and job coach for those with mental and physical disabilities, I didn’t feel the blog post answered the question I had which is, “What can the church do?”
In a study conducted by Matthew Stanford from Baylor University in 2007, published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture some interesting results were found.
30% of attendees who sought help from their church for themselves or a family member because of a mental health condition reported negative interactions counterproductive to treatment.
Women are significantly more likely than men to report being told by their church that they don’t have a mental health disorder (37%), discouragement from their church about the use of medication for mental disorders (23%), and report negative interactions with their church (41%).
Reports of negative interactions from church attendees fall into three categories: abandonment or lack of involvement by the church (60%), mental disorder considered the result of demonic activity (21%), and mental disorder considered the result of a lack of faith / personal sin (19%).
15% of adults who sought help from their church for a mental illness for themselves or a family member reported a weakening of faith as a result of their interaction, and for 13%, their interaction resulted in the end of their involvement with their faith.
So far in my time in ministry, I have dealt with people with autism, seizures, PTSD/TBI, schizophrenia, depression, anxieties, bulimia, and mental retardation. I find it odd that until I began working as a job coach, I never thought of there being an issue with the church not understanding how to handle this issue. It was only when I read the article mentioned at the beginning that it brought light to me that this is a huge problem.
When I read that the most prominent negative interaction from the church is lack of involvement, I thought to myself that this is unacceptable. From my experience, I have always seen the church react to mental disabilities as sin or demonic oppression. The church’s answer was either convince the one to repent of sins previously committed or attempt an exorcism.
I don’t have the answers for what the church should do. I don’t think another program is the way to go as had been stated by another blogger I read. When I read this blog, I can’t help but maybe lean in agreement that maybe sometimes Jesus is not all you need. I dealt with depression for three years but never received medication. I found Jesus or for the theologically correct rather, Jesus found me. Am I saying that because I overcame my depression through Jesus others can too? I would like to think that. But do some need medication too? I just really don’t know. It’s something I recently am wrestling with.
This is where I’m at. What can the church do about mental illness? Can the church do anything? Should it be left to the “professionals” to minister to the mental illnesses that seem to becoming even more prevalent in recent generations. I’m thinking this can no longer be swept under the rug by the church. It’s has to become something we become aware of. Prayer is beneficial. I’ve experienced answered prayer and God is able to heal all but is there a time when medication is the go to format for healing those with a mental illness? Should the church only be involved with mental illnesses simply to educate against the stigma or should it be involved in the healing process?
You tell me your thoughts.