For some, the church isn’t a safe place to be honest about their struggles. And while it’s not how it should be it’s how it is, especially for those dealing with mental health issues.
In any given year, one in four people will experience a mental health problem or illness, according to the World Health Organization. This is a quarter of all people, regardless of faith, beliefs or spirituality. Simply being a Christian doesn’t guarantee good mental health, just like having a mental illness doesn’t disqualify someone from being a Christian.
What is mental health?
In general, mental health is a term used to describe the process involved in finding and maintaining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance. When you’re willing to think about and deal with everyday challenges (for example, making decisions, adapting to change, communicating your needs and wants, etcetera) you’re demonstrating good mental health.
Your mental health affects your moods, thoughts and sense of well-being. While everyone has both good and bad days, unrelated to mental health problems or illness, when certain feelings are prolonged (lasting more than two weeks) or prevent you from accomplishing regular daily tasks then this may indicate a mental health concern.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental illness is caused by a “complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors.” Mental illness can be treated and mental health can be achieved. The first step is talking about it and getting help before things go too far out of balance. The type of treatment depends on the severity of the problem.
Stigma surrounding mental health
Oftentimes, people dealing with mental health issues avoid talking about it with others because they’re afraid of the stigma—negative attitudes and responses—surrounding mental health.
This stigma exists both inside and outside the church and while steps are being taken by advocates and organizations to remove it, the church can be leading the way by having conversations about mental health with their congregations, normalizing mental health problems and illness by acknowledging their prevalence and advocating for good mental health by encouraging appropriate treatment. Stigma can prevent people from seeking treatment while acceptance can create safe places for people to work through their issues to restore balance.
Ways to create safe spaces for people dealing with mental health issues
While it’s important for churches to be safe spaces for people to take off their masks and be vulnerable with one another in pursuit of health, it’s not the institution’s lone task to remove the stigma. As members in the Body of Christ, we all have a responsibility to care for one another and to “share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2).
Speaking of the Body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:26 says “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad.” It’s our collective responsibility to support each other through all of life’s ups and downs. We can support each other by building relationships with one another, accepting each other and being there in good times and in bad times.
Here are a few simple ways to relieve stigma and create safe spaces when dealing with mental health:
- Be warm, caring and non-judgmental in your interactions
- Pray for your Christian brothers and sisters and make a point to check in with them on a regular basis
- Ask questions, be a listening ear and find ways to care for those dealing with mental health problems without being confrontational
- Help raise awareness about mental health
- Challenge stigma when you see it
We live in a broken and sick world and while it’s important to work towards being healthy and maintaining stability, we also need to understand things go out of balance all the time. We need to be kind, honest and understanding with others and ourselves.
Mental Health Resources
If you’re in crisis or need immediate help:
- Visit your local emergency or urgent care department or call 911
- In the United States, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call toll-free 1.800.273.8255
- In Canada, contact Crisis Services Canada or call toll-free 1.833.456.4566 (1.866.277.3553 in Quebec)
- In the UK, contact Samaritans or call 116 123 for free
- Call a distress line or crisis centre in your area
To learn about mental health, for support and mental health resources:
- Contact your health care provider
- Visit the Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre––focuses on improving the quality and availability of mental health services for people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds
- Learn more about different mental disorders from the World Health Organization
- Download the Mental Health Conversation Guide—this resource from Living Room Conversations offers a structured way to practice communicating across differences while building understanding and relationships
Join the conversation:
- Time to Change—this website offers resources and tips for talking openly about mental health
- NAMI FaithNet—this is a network of NAMI members, friends, clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to encourage faith communities who are welcoming and supportive of persons and families living with mental illness
- Bell Let’s Talk—this annual campaign encourages people to spread the word and take away the stigma surrounding mental health on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Ways to remove the stigma surrounding mental health
While the conversations around mental health in churches today are becoming more commonplace, there is still work to be done. Until Christians can feel safe sharing their mental health struggles with their church leaders and peers, and get the level of care they require, there will always be a cloud of shame above those who experience a mental health problem or illness. These negative feelings can become an additional burden to the sufferer and often causes them to feel isolated.
A big part of removing the stigma around mental health is being willing to talk about it openly with others. Just as we can only extend Christ’s grace and forgiveness to others if we have accepted it in our own lives, we can only offer acceptance and create a safe space for others if we allow room for mental health problems in our own lives.
These are tough conversations but they’re important. If we can be honest with our trusted network when we’re not in balance they can offer support and objective feedback when we need it most.