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Mental Health Grace AllianceFebruary 11, 2015

27% of congregants on any given Sunday are dealing with mental illness (family or individual). Rogers, Stanford, Garland. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 2011

For a long time, mental illness has been a shy whisper in the Sunday school hallways, a denial, an embarrassment, and often a spiritual issue deemed as a weak faith, the result of personal sin and or the demonic influence caused by that personal sin. Then, the different types of ministries to eradicate the mental problems … People have been hurt … Many have been wounded … Many have left the church.

Then, you get the “mental health church bashers” … they criticize, scorn, and even demonize the church. They make the issue worse. It’s okay to talk about what’s going wrong, but bitterness never begets anything beautiful.

The Church is not perfect, makes mistakes, and sometimes gets messy. The Church is on a journey understanding the full reality of Christ is in us and who we are in Him. We grow by grace. We all grow by working together.

Thus, I love the Church and we’re working to help the church be a real answer. SO, enough is enough … it’s time to bring good news and build an answer in the church …

The “mental health” conversation in the church is shifting … and many church leaders are asking, “What do we do?”

Pastor, Elder, Church Leader … Here’s how you become the ANSWER for mental illness … whether you use our programs or not – Here’s what you need to consider.

Build The Foundation. Leadership needs to be on the same page and have a game plan … hope with direction.

Dedicate a leaders meeting to bring real education about mental illness. The church needs a whole new concept of mental illness, a whole new way of understanding, a whole new way of responding and restoring hope. Medical implications are only the tip of the iceberg … we need to see the beauty and the opportunity beyond this. We can help with new vision and insight OR you can work with passionate people from the mental health community.

With this knowledge … the leadership can endorse and build a plan that involves three components:

Education, Training, and Support. That’s it!

1. Education & Interest

66% of pastors rarely or never talk about mental illness from the pulpit.

65% of families and 59% of individuals with a mental illness want their church to talk about it.

LifeWay Research 2014

  • Talk About It. Acknowledge to your congregation that the church is not afraid of mental illness and that it is actively seeking ways to provide more support. Be the pioneering pastor in our culture by sharing a sermon on this new profound hope with mental illness (or bring in a guest speaker).

  • Mobilize Your Catalysts. Provide an interest meeting to share facts about mental illness, the hope of mental health recovery, and the role of the church (support groups and training). Have a sign-up sheet for those who are willing to serve.

2. Train Your Leaders and Support Team

30-40% of people with a diagnosable mental illness who come to the church for support are being told “mental illness” doesn’t exist. Rogers, Stanford, Garland. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 2011

  • Mental Health 101. Have your staff and lay leaders trained to recognize, respond, refer, and provide restorative care for those dealing with mental illness. We provide this training or use mental health professionals or organizations in your area.

  • Community Support Groups. Call on those who signed up at the interest meeting and train those interested in leading a mental health support group. We specifically have three types of Christian curriculum-guided support groups being utilized in numerous churches across the nation:

Family Grace Group: for family members.

Living Grace Group (peers): for individuals living with a mental health disorder.

Living Hope Group (PTSD/Trauma): for individuals who have experienced trauma.

  • Education Class. In addition to the groups, host a NAMI Family 2 Family course. Contact your local NAMI affiliate for more information (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

3. Launch Community Impact.

“A common denominator of (mental illness) recovery is the presence of people who believe in and stand by the person in need of recovery … Recovery is a deeply human experience … Recovery can be facilitated by any one person. Recovery can be everybody’s business.” William Anthony Ph.D. Psychological Rehabilitation Journal 1993

  • Church or Homes for Support Groups. Organize a room at your church or meet at homes.

  • Mental Health Symposium (annual or semi-annual) Offer the church to host a half-day event where these groups and organizations can meet together to rally around vision, hope, education, and community collaboration. Many of these organizations will do this at no cost; just provide your church community center or sanctuary.

  • Easy Access. Provide info for the groups or in general church listing of support. Some churches list the groups behind multiple web pages of information and that is not helpful. Be clear and bold that your church is part of community impact.

  • Benevolent. Section out part of your benevolent ministry funds to help with people experiencing psychological distress the ability to have an initial visit with a mental health professional. This can help until community services can be applied.

Now to those 3 over arching questions of concern …

“Mental illness is unpredictable … shouldn’t we be cautious?” We are only afraid of what we do not know and what stigma reinforces. Actually, people with mental illness are more victims of crimes than causing them. It’s media that has portrayed the worst. Despite the mental and emotional instability … people with mental health disorders are some of the world’s most compassionate heroes who help us understand a deeper meaning of life and service to others. Even the families with diagnosed loved-ones are incredible heroes of support.

“Why Do These Groups Matter?” The groups often become the first line of care for those in need. Pastors don’t have to be the answer for everything nor try to fix every situation. Churches begin to refer people to this support system and those individuals begin to find more strategic and personal support … and deep understanding. You’re empowering people to be the body of Christ and answer to this unique challenge.

“I just don’t see the need for this?” It’s because stigma has silenced the topic in the church. No one knows how to talk about it. As noted above, many have unfortunately been wounded and they have left the church and God altogether. This support restores people back into a life-giving community and rebuilds personal faith. Unfortunately, the hurting are finding solace in secular groups, which are more “venting” groups and often feed off the bitterness towards the church … infecting the wounds. The supportive church offers community with open arms. They come back to a community; they come to see a God who is safe, good, and full of grace … a healing journey begins.

There are more questions that arise … however let us not discount serving people in real need, let’s tackle the challenges together. As Paul encourages in 1 Thessalonians 4.9-10 that it is God who has taught us to love one another … but then urges to excel still more.

Let’s build a more excellent way.

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