Paul said in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” So when 91% of Christians say mental illness is stigmatized in the Church I wonder what truth we’ve allowed to slip into the background of our fellowship?
It hasn’t always been that way. In the past, congregations were the only places where those experiencing a mental health crisis were actually welcomed. The oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, the Bethlem Royal, was founded in 1247 in London by monks. Even until the early 20th century depressed, anxious, or troubled people were considered ‘insane’ and treated with extreme practices by the medical community. Churches, however, took them in. Then by the mid-20th century, ministry stepped aside for modern psychiatry to take the lead.
While there are certainly helpful and productive advances in psychiatry, much like education and government, sincere faith was never meant to be replaced or repressed as THE key factor in mental health. In my personal experience, congregations are now comprised of good people suffering in silence with depression, anxiety, grief, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD. Overwhelming emotions are suppressed by an almost “good Christians don’t cry” unspoken attitude. Once again, historically consider the impact of people like Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Florence Nightingale, and Mother Teresa who themselves had serious mental health struggles.
If we as the Church have failed you … forgive us. We are learning just as you are. And while the term “mental health” may not appear in scripture, the concept of shalom – peace, wholeness, completeness, wellbeing – runs throughout. The Church may be silent about mental illness, but the Scriptures are not, and in that, we must always point people back to the rock-solid truths of God.
Then we need to follow Jesus’ example in His resurrection appearance to the two on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-32. He walked with them. Invited them to share their brokenness without judgment, then the Son of God directed them to the Word of God as He revealed His story. And in our deepest, darkest, and most painful moments isn’t that all we wanted? Someone to come alongside us, listen to us, and befriend us in our pain … and walk with us to Jesus. Let’s fall in love with His Church all over again.