It’s estimated that one in five people in our nation suffer from some form of mental illness.
Dr. Matt Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center and author of Grace for the Afflicted, offers helpful insight to clergy and congregants on how to handle mental illness. He provides a clinical and biblical perspective on mental illness, and brings encouragement to those whose lives are impacted.
If someone has a mental illness the first question that often follows is ‘what can we do?’
Dr. Stanford says that the biggest way to show support is to just be present.
“…being the people of God that can offer a hope that transcends circumstances, we can simply be present with these individuals. We don’t have to be psychiatrists, we don’t have to be psychologists, we can do for them what we do for people with other illnesses.”
Too often mental illness is a ‘no-casserole illness.’
“You know if somebody in your church gets pregnant or has liver cancer, which are like the two ends of the spectrum, they get a casserole. Somebody at least says, ‘I think I’ll make them a meal, just to show them that I care.’ Tell somebody you have bipolar disorder and they’ll never ever talk to you again. And so you know we just simply need to treat people the same way we treat other suffering individuals, and we just need to walk along with them.”
It is important that our church leaders, pastors and clergy are equipped to respond to these types of situations and problems.
The estimate is that about one out of every four families is dealing with someone who has a mental health issue. This means that if you imagine a congregation of 100 people, a quarter of them are affected by mental health illnesses, either with a personal diagnosis or knowing someone who is struggling.
That’s a significant amount, and so we really need to make sure that we are aware and helping where we can.
“We need to try to meet people where they are, and we need to make our churches a place that is grace-oriented and inclusive, and really draws in people that are broken and hurting because I think that’s why God sending them to us.”
We don’t want to be therapists, we don’t want to say “pray and read the Psalms,” but we should be present and show those who are affected that you care and are willing to walk through with them.
As a clergy you do need to have referral options, because they’re coming to you first and you need to recognize that and make a referral to help them. Additionally, Dr. Stanford encourages churches to think about their benevolence fund.
“…you have it there to help people. I mean if somebody comes in and they say, you know, my ‘22 year old son was just diagnosed with bipolar disorder and we can’t afford his medication’ or ‘we can’t afford to get the therapy that he needs’ I mean why not pay for three or four therapeutic sessions? Why not pay for his medication for six months? I mean we certainly do that for people with other illnesses.”
We need to not treat mental illnesses any differently than we treat other illnesses. We need to show support by being present and being willing to care.