The church plays a part in the spiritual and physical life of its members and the community in which it resides. Often you’ll find the church rising to the occasion following a natural disaster, collecting food for the hungry, adopting a stretch of road for cleanup, taking meals to sick members and organizing help for local nonprofits. But what is the church’s role in the middle of a national mental health crisis?
To start with, we are called to show Christ’s love to everyone and everywhere. We weren’t told to exclude those who do not fit into our preconceived boxes. Instead, we were told to reach out and extend love even when it costs us greatly. Our comfort is not God’s concern. God’s concern is that all humans, created in God’s image, are shown compassion and love by those who call themselves Christ-followers. If we are void of that love, then can we truly claim to be Christ-followers at all (1 John 4:8)?
Every human we come across fits into exactly one category: the Imago Dei.
The church created stigmas
The church stands on the front line of mental health. Unfortunately, we’ve misused our position for far too long. Shame and guilt have silenced hurting voices. The church presented a filtered version of the truth that placed the blame of mental illness on the one suffering. Statements such as “If only you had enough faith, then you would be healed” and “God never gives us more than we can handle” built walls between the ones who needed help and the church. We told the hurting to pray it away.
We stigmatized those suffering. A stigma, according to the dictionary, is a “mark of shame or discredit.” It is something placed on an individual, not taken up by that person. The Christian community of the ‘60s and ‘70s embraced an anti-psychiatric movement that left in its wake hurting individuals and broken lives. But it didn’t start — or end — there. The church has a long, broken history of only helping those who look a certain way or act a certain way.
We are called to extend care to others. Christians are called to love. Period. No exclusions. That care includes mental health.
The church’s role in destigmatizing
The church must get back on the front line, but this time to offer a helping hand and to walk alongside those who are struggling. Start doing life with those struggling with mental health. You will find fairly quickly that you are already doing life with them; you simply weren’t aware. Our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Bloomberg reports that in 2017, there were 1.4 million suicide attempts, and 47,000 people died by suicide. Those numbers have been climbing on average by 2% each year.
We must know the truth of the crisis. We must educate ourselves on how to respond, when to step in and where to find the help our brothers and sisters need. Get to know the mental health providers in your community. Do your research now. Be prepared for when the opportunity to help comes along, and then don’t be shy to walk with the person struggling. Don’t be shy to reach out for help if that person is you.
Vox.com recently published an article with the tag line:“Churches have a huge responsibility to people living with mental health issues. Are they living up to it?”
Well church, are we?
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