Mental health is big news these days. Advocacy groups are working hard to secure the rights of those who suffer from debilitating mental health issues. Unfortunately, there is still a silencing stigma associated with mental health. Where is the church? What would Jesus do for the person suffering from poor mental health?
Jesus and Mental Health
Jesus heard about a man who was so crazy and out of control that the local authorities chained him. They didn’t know what else to do. The man lived in the graveyard. Perhaps it was the one place few people went. Perhaps he had lost someone and lived in a perpetual state of grief. Perhaps it is a metaphor — the graveyard was considered “unclean” — the only place the man felt safe because he felt “unclean.”
Whatever the case, Jesus came to him and healed him. Jesus treated him as a human being. He went to the root of the problem. He reached out to him. Jesus’ message was — you don’t have to live here.
Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration to be confronted by a young man who was suffering terribly. He would roll on the ground in fits. He was impulsive and reckless. He attempted suicide several times, throwing himself into the fire. He was desperate for relief.
The disciples had been trying to help but were unable to make a difference. Jesus healed the boy. His disciples asked him why they couldn’t do what he did so easily. Jesus said — It’s not that easy. Sometimes it takes a much bigger effort on the part of those who love the boy.
Jesus did three things that are important:
- He reached out to them.
- He confronted them.
- He prayed for them.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health has been described as a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is all about how we think, feel, and act. It tends to determine how we handle stress, relationships, and how we make choices.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
Mental Health and the Church
I grew up in a Baptist Church in the 1960’s and 70’s. My church was a wonderful place to grow up. The people were kind and caring. I felt nurtured spiritually.
If our family had a non-shame-based problem — like a death in the family or cancer — the church was there for us. However, if something “shameful” happened in our family and we needed help — we would never tell our church.
There is a stigma surrounding mental health issues that continues to paralyze the church from being salt and light — a balm of healing for those who really need it. Jesus told his critics that he came for those who are sick — those who need a doctor (Luke 5:31).
The Church should be a hospital for sick people.
Yet, only only 27 percent of churches have established plans to help families affected by mental illness. Almost two-thirds of Christians with depression said they wanted their churches to speak openly about mental illness, but only 66 percent of pastors said they spoke to their church on the topic once a year or less (all statistics are from a 2014 survey by Lifeway).
Tragically, the survey also found that one-third of suicide victims were attending church before their death, but few pastors knew of their struggle.
5 Things to Remember
If you are struggling with mental health issues or someone one you love is — here are five things to remember and/or share with them.
1. It’s OK to not be okay.
Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Denial gets you nowhere. There was only one perfect person — and you’re not him. We all have our struggles and yours is no more “shameful” than mine.
2. Don’t believe everything you think.
Mental illness has a way of sending your brain terrible messages that are simply NOT true. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus says that you are the beloved child of God (John 16:26). Listen to him.
3. You deserve to get help.
Jesus died for you. You are important and you are loved.
You may feel like you are a burden or like people are tired of you, or like no one believes you — but, remember this — Jesus hears your every cry — He has proclaimed (from the cross) that you are of infinite worth to God.
We ALL need help at one time or another. You deserve the very best help available. Let people help you!
In addition, don’t feel ashamed to get the medicinal help you need. You would never tell someone with cancer, diabetes or heart disease to go without seeking medical help, so why would you deny yourself the medical help you need?
4. Work to be happy. Perfection is a delusion.
I need to lose 20 pounds. Staying healthy is hard work. I may have to be happy with losing 5 pounds. I may never lose 20 pounds. That’s okay.
Perfection is a delusion. Getting healthy and staying healthy is hard work and a never-ending goal. We never arrive, so sometimes it’s okay to just make it to feeling okay.
5. Be grateful every day.
It’s more difficult to be consumed with your own struggles when you are focused on all the reasons you are blessed. Make a list. Keep a “Blessings Journal” where you document all the good things that are happening in your life.
Find a reason to be grateful.
Most of all, be grateful that you can go to Jesus every day. He never gets tired of hearing from you and he will never leave you alone — nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38-39).