We live in an incredibly anxious and depressed culture here in America, and the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and divisive politics have further exacerbated this issue. According to a 2020 report from Mental Health America, more than 47 million adults in our nation are experiencing some form of mental illness. My home state of Texas is one of the lowest ranking in the nation for quality of mental health and treatment for mental illness in adults.
Moreover, across America, approximately 4.4 million children have been diagnosed with anxiety and another 1.9 million have been diagnosed with depression. Most concerning, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among people 10 to 34 years of age.
We have an established mental health crisis on our hands. Sadly, the Christian church has often neglected to respond in a loving and supportive way to those who are struggling with mental health issues. I’m heartbroken to say many people who have sought help and hope within the church have been turned away, shamed, or told — sometimes by well-meaning pastors or lay counselors — they just need to “pray harder” or “have more faith.”
2021 is a new year, and it’s time for the Christian church to respond to this crisis in a new way.
In 2019, Lifeway Research surveyed pastors, congregants, and their families about mental illness and the church. The survey revealed nearly half of pastors (49%) “rarely or never speak to their church in sermons or large group settings about acute mental illness.” Additionally, close to one in four individuals surveyed indicated they had either “stopped attending church, had not found a church to attend or had changed churches based on the church’s response to mental health issues.”
I believe the church’s failure lies not in ill intention but largely in misinformation and lack of proper training. While there is a spiritual aspect to mental health that churches and pastors can and should address, we often have missed the clinical reality of mental health.
Complicating the matter is the fact that in my generation (Baby Boomers) mental health has often been viewed as a taboo subject to be discussed only at home, if at all. We were raised to believe that if you are a follower of Jesus, you’re not supposed to struggle with mental health, depression or anxiety. I remember thinking this way when I was a young Christian, and it took several painful experiences over the course of my life for me to grasp what it’s like to struggle with mental health.
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SOURCE: CBN, Jack Graham