This week, Adrian Warnock continues hosting a widespread conversation about mental health and faith on his Patheos blog. Earlier this month, I answered a question he posed: How has your religious community historically seen mental illness? And how does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental illness?
His new question is this: How do you think that faith communities and society as a whole can better respond to mental illness?
Here’s my response, regarding how churches can help:
“If one group can serve a thousand people, how many people can a thousand groups serve?” This vision-casting question came from Bob Mills, one of the people I wrote about in Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. Bob’s church is First Presbyterian in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one of four churches I profiled, which have intentional ministries to people affected by mental illness. These churches serve as inspiration and examples of what other churches, and other faith communities, can do.
Bob is lead facilitator of the Bipolar Support Group ministry at First Presbyterian, a group that started in 2001 and has ministered to nearly 1,500 people since then. His interest in starting and perpetuating this ministry grew from his own experience with bipolar disorder and the spiritual crisis that came with it. With support from his pastoral staff, he has channeled his experience into a thriving ministry to help others on the same journey.
As I shared in Troubled Minds, Bob said he wants other churches to “understand that this is the simplest and cheapest of all ministries, because all it takes is broken people who are willing to open up to God and allow him to work through them to heal them and then help them then become healers. It costs the church nothing other than whatever power it takes for us to turn on lights for an extra three hours. And what you get in exchange for that is truly amazing.”
All four of the ministries I profiled were driven by people equally passionate about ministry to individuals and families affected by mental illness. All of them have seen their ministries provide tremendous hope, healing, and life-saving friendship.
But not every church can do what these churches have done. Some don’t feel they have the resources to start another ministry or someone willing to lead it. Some feel too stretched by the ministries they already have. Some simply have a long way to go in overcoming stigma and their visceral fear of mental illness, and the thought of a ministry specifically to reach people with such illness sounds intimidating.
Fortunately, there are many simpler–yet still powerful–things we can do. Here are a few:
Is there more we can do? Yes! Much more–I devoted an entire chapter of Troubled Minds to this topic. But these simple actions make for a great starting point. We need not feel paralyzed by the possibilities or overwhelmed by the idea that supporting mental health is purely a job for professionals. As I wrote in Troubled Minds, “The church can make a difference. The darkness is deep enough that even a tiny light can help someone find the way out.”
Something is way better than nothing–and we can all do something.
© 2013 Amy Simpson.