Advice to the Church From a Christian with Mental Illness

I consider church to be a very great thing, but that does not mean there are not ways I believe it could improve. After all, church is made up of sinful people who don’t get everything right all the time, and that’s okay! Just like the world around us, the church is not immune to being in need of advice or adjustments being made, and as someone with OCD I believe one of the ways the church could improve is how it addresses mental health.

Only very recently has mental health become something that is talked about, and even today talking about mental health is seen as taboo, despite our mental health as a society decreasing at rapid rates (you’d think we’d want to talk about something that is affecting our health in such a negative way….but we don’t)! Because of this, a lot of places, including the church, have not had the proper time and information to find ways to address the mentally ill in an effective way.

When someone is affected by a mental illness, it affects everything about their life, including their church life. I’d like to say that all our mental issues just go out the door when we walk into church, but sadly that’s just not true. It is something we carry with us everywhere we go, which is why learning how to address mental illness in the context of church is something that we Christians could all benefit from. This is why I want to give my beloved fellow believers in Christ some advice on how to better address mental health from a Christian living with mental illness:

TALK about mental illness!

People still see mental illness as subject to tiptoe around, like if someone says “OCD” the world will burst into flames or something.

Mental illness is just as real of an issue as financial problems, divorce, abuse, and all the other issues we talk about in church, so why can’t we talk about mental illness too?

Is it because we are afraid to? Because we don’t believe it’s an issue worth talking about? Or is it because we just don’t have enough information to confidently discuss it?

Regardless of the reason, by not talking about it, the church unintentionally contributes to the stigma because the lack of conversation about it increases the subject’s level of nonacceptance, and as a result that will make congregation members with a mental illness wary to open up to the church about their illness, for fear of the church’s response.

Obviously mental health isn’t the only issue in people’s lives; I’m in no way trying to say that I think every sermon needs to be about mental health, or that the entire focus of the church needs to be on the mentally ill all the time, BUT it could really change a lot of lives just talking about it more than we are now. Some may say, “But mental illness is not really addressed in the bible, so how can we address it at church?” Those people would be wrong; mental illness is the bible! In fact, there’s even large speculation that some of Jesus’ disciples had mental illnesses! That is a topic for another post, though.

We need to talk about mental health in church because it’s important to talk about issues relevant to the world around us so that we can shine Jesus’ light on those issues!

WATCH what you say!

I had this issue so much growing up, and even still today. Here’s the thing: people with mental illness such as OCD or anxiety literally cannot process and handle the things commonly said to a church congregation. Example: I would be at a church event and the end of the sermon would be coming up so the pastor would say, “If you died tonight, are you absolutely sure that you would go to heaven?” Immediately I would begin to freak out because despite growing up in a Christian household where I knew and loved the bible, becoming a Christian when I was very young, and knowing that I believed in Jesus, because I had OCD, my mind would still doubt if I was a Christian, if I would go to heaven, if I was truly saved. From an outside view, someone would look at this and say that I wasn’t saved because I had doubt, but what most people don’t understand is that those of us with OCD will always have doubts about everything in our brains. It really sucks because that doubt causes so much stress and worry in every aspect of our lives, but it’s just something different about us that the average person just can’t understand.

Secondly, please don’t look at me and say, “Just have faith! Pray, and it will get better!” Honestly, what an ignorant thing to say! Mental illness does not work that way! The same way having faith that a physical ailment will just go away if I pray hard enough for it does not automatically guarantee the fixing the ailment, telling me to pray for my OCD to go away and that having faith will fix my problems does not automatically guarantee the fixing of my OCD! In fact, saying that to me is actually very degrading because implies that my mental illness is something I did to myself by not being an obedient follower of Christ. When you tell someone to “just have faith,” it implies you think that our illness would be fixed if we were a “better Christian” (because you think we just don’t have enough faith) than we are now, which is most certainly not true! Yes, trusting God is so important and we can pray for these things to get better and have faith that God will take care of it, but that is not a magical fix to the problems we face. God chooses what He wants to fix or allow and when He wants to do those things. We can have faith that He loves us, takes care of us, and will be there for us. We can pray and ask God to please heal us, but doing those things does not guarantee anything because it is in God’s hands, so please don’t try to imply it’s in ours! My mental illness is a gift from God and I am thankful for it, but I know having more faith won’t make it just disappear, as much as I might wish it was that way.

PROVIDE more resources for the mentally ill!

One way I think this would be most effective is if churches started to have a licensed professional in the church building for the congregation to receive free Christian counseling, or possibly having one (or more) pastor/priest being a licensed counselor that could be a resource for people to go to for mental health advice or questions in terms of Christianity. This would be great for society because there would be more spaces for others who are not in church to get into counseling agencies outside the church, Christians would have access to affordable Christian counseling, and it may even attract people who would not normally come to church to check it out! It would be a great way to service communities and would overall make the congregation more mentally healthy! Doing things like that would help people learn about mental illness and would help the mentally ill receive the help they need and not feel as nervous to talk about it in church.

Other ways to provide resources may include doing sermons related to mental health, giving mental health workshops, retreats, etc., offering financial aid to people who cannot afford the treatment for their illness that they need, and more! There are tons of ways to help make the subject less taboo in church that would also serve to improve the quality of life of the congregation!

The bottom line is we have to find different ways to address these issues, because the way we are now is only making things harder for those suffering with mental illness. Church is a wonderful thing. I am so grateful for it and for my Savior. Fellow Christians and church-goers, please don’t misinterpret my advice as some kind of attack on the church or me trying to call out anyone. I am just trying to do my part as a mental health advocate and advocate for mental health in the church, too. The world has a long way to go before we can fully destigamtize mental illness and truly prioritize mental health in society, but I know with the help of God’s church we can do it! I hope this post will help you when addressing mental health at your church in the future!

With love,

Maddie

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