Faith and Hope: Churches Can Help Parishioners Struggling With Mental Health Issues

It’s a conversation I’ll never forget. While visiting with a local pastor one day about the mental health focus of The Lutheran Foundation, he shared something he did one Sunday morning in church.

As people gathered for worship, everyone received a sheet of paper with a list of ten questions related to mental health issues. There were questions like, “Have you ever been depressed?” “Have you ever been prescribed medication for mental health issues?” Each person was to circle any question that applied to them.

When everyone finished answering their questions, the ushers collected them. They shuffled the papers and walked to a different part of the church to pass out those same sheets of paper. Each person was now holding someone else’s paper (no names were on them.) The pastor then started to read the questions, one by one, and asked people to stand up if the question he read was circled on the sheet they were holding.

When people in the congregation saw the number of people standing up in response to each question, there was an audible gasp from the congregation. “Everyone thinks they are the only one living with mental health issues,” the pastor said. Too often, the stigma is so great in the church that people are afraid to talk about mental illness.   

One in Five in Our Churches

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. That also means one in five in our churches. Most people don’t realize how prevalent mental illness is, more common than cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. 

While Amy Simpson was growing up, her mother had serious psychotic episodes and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family was always active in church. But when it came to her mother’s mental health issues, there was silence and shame, even though Amy’s father was a pastor. “We needed community and loving friendships,” she says. “The church is one of the only places left in society where that is readily available – at least in theory.” Amy tells her family’s story in her book, “Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission.

Not a Lack of Faith

For a Christian, mental illness doesn’t mean a lack of faith. King David, who authored over 70 of the Psalms, openly shared his “laments.” He boldly asked the Lord in Psalm 13, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” And yet, in that same Psalm, David was clear to express his faith saying, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in my salvation.”

Brandon Appelhans of Denver, CO started the mental health ministry My Quiet Cave in response to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Brandon wants people to know your diagnosis doesn’t define you. His ministry helps equip faith communities to engage with mental health by training and empowering volunteers to lead groups of support and encouragement in their local church.

For additional resources, visit LookUp’s Faith Community topic page.

Written by Rev. Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs at The Lutheran Foundation and re-posted with permission from  The Journal Gazette, Sunday Centerpiece.

Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

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Save the Date!

Hosting the Look Up 2019 Faith Conference on Mental Health is just one way The Lutheran Foundation is working to promote mental wellness and reduce stigma around mental illness in the church.

This year’s conference will be Oct. 7 at the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Featured speakers include Kay Warren (Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California) and Warren Kinghorn (Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina).

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Get Help

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.

If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.

Start the conversation.  Silence the Stigma. 

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