On Sunday we opened up a really important topic: mental health. Mental health is someone that affects huge numbers of people (estimates are around ¼ of people), yet it is one health challenge that has tremendous stigma, exclusion, and a lack of understanding surrounding it. And that’s something we want to change.
So we began by exploring some of the realities of what mental health is. We shared some basic information about three major mental health illnesses. But then to move it away from theory, and “clinical” descriptions I read the following first hand accounts from people struggling with mental health challenges.
“Depression is a very emotive subject for me, especially among people who have never had to live with it. It is that hidden disability that no one really understands fully – least of all those who suffer with it. The symptoms include feeling overwhelmingly tired, angry, emotional and with a need to withdraw from the world around you. Seeking treatment can also make you feel even more depressed as you feel that you are even more of a failure at not being able to get through it on your own.”
William Styron writes in Darkness Visible:
“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”
And Miriam writes:
“As someone with a mental health illness, you get the feeling that somehow you are more difficult to deal with within the institution of the “church”. In a naïve way I believed the church would be open to all. However, my experience makes me feel that I am on the outside of the institution and an embarrassment.”
The truth is that Jesus never turned away from someone in need, so neither can the church.
So to begin this conversation I unpacked 3 myths I see in the Christian world concerning mental health, and then next week we’ll look at how to help and support those with mental health.
The three myths we unpacked were: mental health is caused by sin, mental health can be cured by prayer alone, and mental illness isn’t welcome in the church.
The truth is that we love simple and easy explanations so when it comes to mental health we often reach for those easy solutions: you must have sinned. Yet this reduction of a complex issue that involves emotions, chemical imbalances, physical realties, and social environments to just personal sin that is “God is sending consequences” is directly against the Bible. I know that sounds harsh but in John 9 when the disciples try to reduce someone’s illness to personal sin – Jesus directly confronts them and contradicts their view. So we need to contradict this myth as well.
Secondly, we looked at how mental health is still believed to be cured by prayer alone by 35% of the church. This is also incredibly unhelpful and a myth. I’m not saying I don’t believe in prayer for healing, but that with any other physical illness we not only pray but also seek medical help. But when it comes to mental health there is the myth that prayer, reading your bible, and more self-discipline will be enough. This is simply not true, not helpful, not Biblical (see my sermon on James 5 for more), and needs to be stopped. I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
Thirdly, we looked at how mental illness isn’t welcome in the church. I say this is a myth not because I don’t believe it’s true, or that it doesn’t happen in churches; but that in the church as it’s meant to be this exclusion should never happen. Jesus would never exclude or isolate someone who is hurting. So if we want to follow Jesus, this idea that mental illness isn’t welcome in the church needs to go. Following Jesus requires that we welcome and include especially in this area.
So those are three myths we unpacked, along with the myth that “the church can’t make a difference” in this area, because I believe we can. I believe that if we get serious about journeying with people and supporting them. Yes professionals and health care experts are needed (see next week) but so too are caring communities of support. And that’s what the church can and should be.
Jean Vanier & John Swinton write this,
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health.
So on Sunday to wrap up I gave us one main point and one challenge. The main point was: Mental health is real and we need to address it. And then the challenge to do this was simple this week: to learn more about it. To fight against the stigma, lack of awareness, and exclusion by learning and growing. This is obviously just the first step but it’s a necessary one. And next week we’ll learn how to take another step as a community.
“Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life.” H.R.L. Sheppard (1880-1937)
Big Idea: Mental health is real and we need to address it.
- ¼ people experience an episode of mental health challenges.
- It is not okay to hold prejudice against those with mental health challenges.
- Three major mental health illnesses: bipolar, major depression, dissociative identity disorder.
- Myth #1: Mental Health Challenges are caused by personal sin and punishment from God.
- We cannot reduce the cause of mental illness to sin.
- Myth #2: Mental Health Challenges can be cured by prayer alone
- I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
- Myth #3: Mental Health is not welcome in the church.
- We believe that people struggling with anything are welcome in this place
- The church is one of, if not the most important thing in combating mental illness and changing it.
- The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. John Swinton and Jean Vanier
- The greater our understanding the greater or depth of care
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What experiences have you had in relation to mental health? Did you realize that mental health was that prevalent? Why do you think it’s important to talk about? What myths have you believed about it, or are still working through? How can you learn more about it this week?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Today learn more about mental health. Look up on the internet for some good discussion guides to talk to your kids, and use one!
Challenge for the Week:
Learn about mental health