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May is Mental Health Awareness month and churches are in a special place to reach people who are struggling with mental illness. Whether it's offering informal support groups within the church or referrals to professional counselors, like those at Faithful Counseling, there is a role for the church to play for people who have mental health conditions.
Unfortunately, in some Christian communities, mental illness is still a taboo subject. Not everyone realizes that mental illness is an illness like physical conditions. It is a brain disease that may require medication and treatment by professionals.
Both leadership and church members can start by speaking about mental illness and recognizing that it is a real thing. Whether it's in a sermon about mental health or a community group conversation, speaking about these issues publicly makes it clear that this is not something to be ashamed about.
What churches can do, as a supplement to counseling, is care for spiritual health, to speak to that area of life that not all professionals will address. Many churches have care teams that ministry to the physical needs of members. These teams should also support the mental health needs, not as licensed professionals, but as members of Christ’s body who “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13b). Just like the person who recently had surgery will need someone to pick up groceries, so will someone lacking energy when in the throes of depression. Mental illnesses often express themselves physically.
Churches can invite professionals to speak about mental illness to their congregation. We know there has been an increase in depression and anxiety from the pandemic over the last year. But there are also church members with long-term struggles pre-pandemic. Once church members see that this is freely spoken about in their Christian community by outside professionals and leadership, they learn that it's a safe place for them to discuss these struggles. The church should be known as a place of healing, not hurt, by advocating for professional support when indicated.
Churches have also held conferences about mental illness. A one-day event held on a church site with mental health professionals shows that the church body recognizes this struggle and is willing to speak about it openly. This presents an opportunity for church members and lay leaders to become educated about mental illness. Whatever your church does to address mental illness, do not avoid conversations about it. By avoiding it, this contributes to the suffering of church members with mental illness and perpetuates any misperceptions about it being a sin.
Faithful Counseling is not here to replace your church community. Instead, we provide additional support with professionals who are licensed by their boards and have over 3,000 hours of experience. They are spiritually informed, professionally licensed, and readily accessible. One reviewer said her counselor “is an integral devoted Christian who's advice aligns with the scriptures of God”.
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