Today, as I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for my mother to come out of recovery for her knee surgery, I’m reminded that today is World Mental Health Day. Here are five things that are on my mind a lot when it comes to mental illness…
1. Mental Illness deserves the same treatment as physical illness in the church. I’m talking about the casseroles, the cards, the prayer requests, the phone calls from the pastor, the full court press. People who are suffering with mental illness (and their families) need real support. So many times, though, we’re afraid to mention it. There’s a stigma and a shame we can’t get over. I know the reasons for this are varied and complex, and I don’t have easy answers. I think the first step is for us to admit that we don’t talk about it enough. Maybe the first step is for everyone to say to each other “You know, why don’t we bring someone a casserole when they are depressed?” or “Why don’t we know when someone is suffering with bipolar disorder?” Mental illness is largely hidden away under layers of shame and silence. Lifeway Research points out how infrequently mental illness is discussed by church leadership which is part of the problem.
2. Colleagues… how can we help each other when we ourselves are suffering with mental illness? The same study referenced above also found 1 in 4 pastors reporting that they (we) are suffering from mental illness. We need to speak up in our clergy groups. We need to seek counseling and help if (when?) we suffer. We need to help each other.
3. Another reminder to my colleague brothers and sisters We need to find the best therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists in our town and refer to them often. In the same way: parishioners – your pastor is not a therapist (usually). Most ministers are not trained mental health professionals yet many people with mental health needs come to us. This is only a problem if we aren’t clear on what will (should) happen in that situation. We should provide appropriate spiritual care and then refer out to excellent appropriately trained mental health professionals. Every pastor has his or her own policy on how and when to counsel and the “rules” are different depending on circumstance. I usually agree to meet with someone (or a couple) up to three times about the same issue or situation and then always refer out after that. Sometimes it takes even less meetings to know when something is out of my area of expertise and education. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that we can’t help, it’s a sign of strength.
4. A word to all of the mental health professionals out there: thank you! Your work is so important and often invisible. Thank you for working long hours and taking on difficult cases. Another word — pastors in your community can help. Though we’re not trained to treat mental illness, we are trained to provide spiritual care. Many of your patients need that too. We can help. Let’s work together.
5. I want to pledge to keep learning more I want to end this post with a shoutout to fellow Chalice Press author Sarah Lund and her new book Blessed Are the Crazy. I’m not going to lie, the title of this book makes me nervous. I was really happy to read the Huffington Post Article she recently published explaining and defending the title. The book is important. It’s Sarah’s story about mental illness in her family. I think she’s exceedingly brave to tell it. More than this, the book aims to bring the topic to churches around the country that we might begin (or continue) to talk about it. What an important and worthy goal. Congratulations, Sarah, and I can’t wait to read your book.