In my family’s small church, which has a strong pastorate and a stable core of mature Jesus followers, there are individuals who are depressed, some with heavy anxiety, two people with eating disorders, one (or more?) who routinely uses alcohol to cope with life, and at least two heads of households with bipolar disorder and/or narcissistic personality disorder.
Unfortunately, these people’s mental health situations are not spoken of or acknowledged in the context of church family life. In contrast, prayer and care are generously dispensed for grieving widows and widowers, various members undergoing cancer treatment, and one man’s recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Yes, the stigma of mental health and illness is as real in the church as outside it.
What can we do?
For a start, we who have knowledge and compassion can help church leaders and staff learn how to recognize and care about the mental health needs of congregants. That’s the premise of Mental Health and Your Church: A Handbook for Biblical Care by Helen Thorne & Dr. Steven Midgley (The Good Book Company 2023).
Written for those without healthcare or counseling backgrounds, this practical book first offers a basis for understanding mental illness and common treatments/therapies and a biblical understanding of mental health, speaking to the physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual facets.
The book’s second section starts with the statement that doing nothing or doing everything not good choices. However, raising awareness and normalizing the reality that we all are on a spectrum of mental health/illness are valuable discussions. How can we in the church relate meaningfully to those with mental disorders and diagnoses? What’s reasonable? How can a church body practically offer resources? The authors provide an array of ideas.
Case studies throughout the book illustrate how a person in a state of mental instability or illness might appear, behave, and react. In the Caring in Practice section, these case studies are developed more fully to discuss anxiety, depression, addictions, psychosis, and the needs of caregivers. This is one of the prize fruits of this book—the individuals in the case studies resemble people I know in our congregation in real ways. And the narratives of these persons describe how one or more people in the church came alongside, initiated conversations, and used biblical insights and actions to care and support.
Mental Health and Your Church is practical, readable, and a worthwhile way to introduce the topic of how to care well for our those we worship with. Also included:
- Brief reflection questions with each chapter—useful for personal or perhaps group discussion
- Additional resources at the back
- Free downloadable discussion guide for church leadership and care teams (on website)
- Six Tips for Offering Support (free on website)
This book’s contents can disassemble barriers, fears, and misunderstandings many of us have about people with mental health needs.
Karen Schmidt, BA, RN, is a contributing editor with the Journal of Christian Nursing and is very thankful for the small church she attends in a western Washington State. In aiming to care more genuinely for the needs of this congregation, she’s helping to begin a care coordination ministry to better serve all kinds of needs in the church.
Coming in the Journal of Christian Nursing in 2024: a regular column on mental health authored by nurses with expertise and specialized training. Get online and print versions of JCN with membership in Nurses Christian Fellowship.