Mental illnesses are not spiritual weaknesses

The church must change its impact on the stigmatization of mental illness.

Lauren Vander Tuig, Staff Writer

Unfortunately, the church is not a leading force when it comes to destigmatizing mental illness. According to Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Ed Stetzer, 49% of pastors rarely speak about mental illness in sermons. This has an effect not only on the congregation as a whole, but on the perception of the church’s role in mental health problems. By keeping mental illness a taboo topic, the church harms those experiencing mental illness through willing passivity.         

MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE WIDESPREAD

Mental illness affects 1 in 5 adults in the United States. This statistic reveals that the topic affects millions of people across the nation. The discussion is not exclusive to those suffering from mental illness, as it is also relevant to those who know a loved one who is suffering. 

It is also highly probable that pastors deal with mental suffering. According to Lifeway, about 23% of pastors say they experienced some form of mental illness. Considering the statistics, churches should broach the topic and offer counseling to their congregations.       

MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT SPIRITUAL WEAKNESS

Misconceptions of mental illness are still present in modern churches, despite major progress within society. Faith-based communities tend to label such illnesses as a form of spiritual weakness. Others have the false notion that God is punishing those with mental illness for their sins or that God is testing their faith through such illnesses. 

While these responses may seem like faith-based conclusions, they are dismissive of serious issues at hand. Mental illnesses are medical conditions where the brain suffers a kind of dysfunction. They should be managed as such and require just as much love and support as any other medical condition.           

MORE THAN PRAYER

A common response of the church to those suffering from mental illness is prayer. While prayer is always helpful, mental illness is not a spiritual disorder—it is biological. According to Lifeway, 35% of Americans believe that mental illness can be overcome with Bible study and prayer alone. 

However, science and psychology recommend therapy and medication as viable, effective solutions. It is unfair and ignorant to deny modern medicine as a gift from God. While personal faith is a powerful component to believers’ health and well-being, the body has needs that require more than prayer and petition alone. We are called to be good stewards of the mind and body which God has entrusted to us.

CULTIVATING HEALTHY RESOURCES FOR THE BODY OF CHRIST 

It is essential for us to support our fellow believers in their mental health adversities. This can look like praying for someone or simply being there for them. 

Churches must overcome the taboo nature of mental health as a “secular” topic and discuss it openly. This can be done through more intimate support groups or through effective sermons with personal anecdotes. 

By making an effort to be educated and sensitive towards mental illnesses, the church can foster a safe space for vulnerability and help to destigmatize already challenging circumstances.     

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