Struggling with mental illness? Consider These 7 Ideas
In “3 Reasons Churches Are Failing on Mental HealthI looked at several ways in which local churches unwittingly miss the opportunity to reach out to people struggling with mental illness.
And the local church is also vital in this conversation.
When I see the signs of increase mental illness in culture, increase in depressionand increased anxiety (even in children), I am convinced that the gospel of Christ is all the more significant for our society, and not less, as many seem to think.
the good news of Jesus Christ is truly the hope for all mankind! I want to make another claim for the church. In addition to our call to live this gospel as embassies filled with ambassadors living and proclaiming the goodness of the king and his kingdom, we are also gifted with what hurting people are looking for at this time.
We are, to quote a wise man, like cities on a hill in an otherwise dark and threatening world. We can be that for what is often a “nearly unreached group of people” – those with mental illness.
What to do if you are struggling with mental illness
Here are some of the top ideas suggested by experts for people struggling with mental illness:
1. Seek medical and therapeutic help.
You might think the church can’t do much here, but you’d be wrong. Getting help takes resources. It may require money, childcare, encouragement, and trust, to name a few.
The local church is a great place to find and build the kind of support system that makes getting mental and medical care possible. Also, it is rare for a minister not to have a good list of references for this type of financial help and support.
2. Avoid dangerous coping mechanisms.
When we are faced with challenges of all kinds, we will be tempted to avoid them with addictive and/or unhealthy choices. Not only does church teaching discourage or prohibit many of them, but we can also offer healthy alternatives instead, most of which will be mentioned later.
Additionally, many churches have special, targeted discipleship programs (12 Steps, Griefshare, Re:Generation, family issues, etc.) to help embed the gospel into the most broken parts of our lives.
3. Avoid isolation.
The church was created to engender community. When Jesus sent out his disciples for ministry, he forbade money bags, knapsacks, and extra sandals, but sent them in pairs (Luke 10:1-4). There are dozens of “one another” passages in the New Testament that prove that community is an important part of the church.
When we taught through a series of sermons a few years ago on the church of my church, we summarized the whole statement of church identity in three key words: We are his. The “we” is significant in the sentence. In the local church you can create this powerful shield, one of the most powerful shields against the ravages of mental illness: friendship. Most churches create a structure for making friends with a common goal.
4. Get out, breathe, play and exercise.
Again, the gym may be ideal for this (and many churches have them too), but people are more loyal to exercise when they have a exercise partner. The local church encourages close friendships, marriages, and family systems, which are great sources for that partner to walk, run, or play with.
Also, in the case of our local church, we are fortunate to have a beautiful campus with disc golf, walking trails and a lake for fishing.
5. Engage in meaningful work.
At the church where I pastor, we also have several acres of grass to mow; one man put together a team of mowers that get the job done! He claims it’s his therapy and threatens to quit the church if we ever get him arrested (Thanks, Chip).
Mowing, like painting, gardening, organizing, etc., is the kind of work you can see accomplishments with, unlike much of the “idea” work most of us do. Nowadays. When we do this for your church, you are also accomplishing something while investing in an entire community! (Note: I avoid calling it “volunteer” since it’s your church, right? It’s not like you “volunteer” to mow the lawn of your own house!)
Another option is to serve in children’s or youth ministry or in hospitality. The local church thrives when it creates opportunities for us to invest, serve and work in a way that brings value and identity.
I’ll also quickly mention the value of being outdoors. The revolutionary work of Richard Louv, The last child in the woods, reminds us that God placed us in a garden for a reason. We are healthiest when we work in its creation. I bet someone has to trim your church hedges or pick up the neighborhood trash. Take this as an opportunity to work on your own stress, depression, and anxiety.
I agree that this may seem to go against numbers 4 and 5, but it doesn’t have to. I also admit that often in the local church we forget to emphasize the same type of rest that the word of God encourages (remember the Sabbath?).
However, whether it is David’s psalms reminding us that we can sleep since God does not (Psalm 127:2; 121:3-4) or Jesus’ offer to rest (Matthew 11:28-30) , our ethic should be rest. We teach that we can trust God even more than ourselves and that He cherishes us even when no one else does. There is a peace and rest that can come in his good grace.
Do we always get there? Of course not. However, we are at least teaching that we should embrace rest from the rush of the world.
7. Focus on the truth.
So those non-medical ways to fight depression so often listed — work, play, exercise, serve — also almost always have a fifth in almost every study: pray.
It turns out that engaging with God and even other religious behaviors can combat the effects of mental illness. Mental illness is complex, and we never talk casually as if mental illness is just a matter of “praying for it to go away.” However, even lay publications acknowledge that prayer has clear benefits for mental healtheven if they don’t fully understand why.
Prayer encourages us to focus on the truth that there is a God and that God loves us. Prayer reminds us that, like passages throughout the Bible, God will not leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5; John 14:18; Psalm 27:10).
How the church can help people with mental illness
In today’s culture, there are very few places where truth is celebrated, let alone studied and spoken about in our lives. The local church is one of those rare places.
Be sure to find a church that clearly teaches submission to the word of God, and you will find truth there that can serve as a reliable foundation, even when our own brains are lying to us. When we are confused in our depression, anxiety, or delusions, we can cling to these truths. Mental illness is difficult enough to navigate without a compass indicating true north.
Finally, I will note that in the church we are used to being strange. Coming to church recognizes that we need help. We have thousands of years of practice to learn how to disagree but still love ourselves. What’s better than uniformity? The unity of harmony. Our notes may be a little different, but we’re trying to sing the same song. It’s a healthy place to fight, as we all do.
On that note, let me encourage everyone to seek community in Christ, the lover of your soul, in a local church, where we can also try to love the souls of others. Therapy is a wonderful tool and counseling is a wonderful process, but neither of them can save you.
Therapy is not a saviour, nor the therapeutic model a new gospel. When properly integrated into a godly life, the type of healing therapy can offer can be as helpful as rehabilitation is for a torn tendon. As a licensed professional counselor, I encourage you to seek out healthy Christian therapeutic relationships when needed, but keep in mind, brothers and sisters: therapy is a great tool but a terrible religion.