I have a question for you. Does your church publish a list of the sick in the bulletin? Most churches do. It provides an easy way to remember who is suffering with what and to pray specifically for their healing. Now, I have a second question for those of you who answered the first question with a, “yes.” Does your church publish of list of those suffering from mental illness?

No? Why not?

The truth is we treat those with mental illnesses differently than those who have “physical” illnesses. We see those who struggle with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as being complicit in their struggles in a way that we do not see other so-called physical diseases (cancers, diabetes-related, heart disease, etc.).

Both “physical” and psychological struggles are body problems and both may or may not be the result of the sufferer’s behaviors. You see, at the same time both forms of struggles are body, spirit, and community problems. Unfortunately, many with mental illness (or their loved ones!) feel outright rejected from the community of care provided for more acceptable body and spirit problems. This should not be the case. Read through the hundreds of comments posted to this blog post and yet another one. Feel their pain and rejection and blame from those who should love and care the most.

So, how do we, the church, provide mercy ministry to the mentally ill? Let me outline just a couple of initial steps

  1. Develop a prayer team for those with mental illness. Choose men and women willing to pray for the complex issues (for guiding patients, family, doctors, etc., for hope, for perseverance, for God to heal, for worshipful hearts in the midst of pain). Train the prayer team to pray. They don’t need to counsel or give hours and hours of time on the phone or in person.
  2. Talk about mental illness from the front. Churches who talk about things like schizophrenia, anxiety and depression as if they are not shameful but part of the scourge of living in a fallen world will give those suffering with these problems some hope that God cares about their struggles too. We need to reclaim the work of the Puritans such as Richard Sibbes who wrote volumes on the problems of despair and gave pastoral counsel as to how to comfort, encourage, and preach to the afflicted.
  3. Train the Diaconate. Deacons and deaconesses have a lot of power given that they have resources (money, services, etc.) that the mentally ill and their families need. Training the diaconate to ask good questions, to major on the majors, to support effective treatment. Sometimes the life of a mentally ill person is chaotic. They get lost in the clutter in their minds. But, the diaconate can help individuals keep to the basics (sleeping/eating schedules, doctor’s visits, and other key matters).
  4. Build connections with professionals. The church can’t be everything to everybody. We shouldn’t expect pastors to know the ins and outs of medications (hey, most internal medicine docs struggle with these as well), know where to find the best services. But, when church staff take the time to build a list of good providers (private and public), these can be most helpful. Getting a professional to consult with a case is a great idea.
  5. Care for the family. The most neglected persons are the spouses, parents, and children of the mentally ill. Make it a point to call on them and help them navigate the repeated painful task of discerning how to love well those with mental illness. Sometimes, it may mean tough love and other times not. But whatever kind of love, it will tear out the heart of the family member.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/philip-monroe


0 # DeJuan 2011-12-05 03:17
I like your article and recommendations.

Schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, etc., are specific diagnoses of the DSM. Like cancer, leukemia, and heart disease, these diagnoses are derived from the medical model. This model states basically that physical and mental illnesses are based on physiological, biochemical, and/or genetic causes, and are to be treated by physically based procedures. In other words, it's based on a materialistic and naturalistic view of cause and effect.

If you are going to view the cause of mental illness as supernatural/spiritual in origin, then using terminology, criteria, and treatment plans based in a naturalistic worldview is disingenuous.

Call it Demonic Possession or Manifestation of Sin or Holy Dis-spirit Syndrome. I suggest that Christian counselors develop their own terminology, like other therapists that reject the medical model, and not use DSM terminology as if the APA endorses prayer groups.
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0 # Philip Monroe 2011-12-07 11:57
DeJuan, I think there are some changes in the way the medical model is articulated. Medical practice/training that does not address spirituality (probably not what you or I would call Christian) is now considered unethical. I do think that we can use descriptors (diagnostics) in order to streamline communication and to let people know that people are body and soul and both are broken...rather than forget body and assume that anxiety, depression are only spiritual. I fear developing our own terminology would only ghettoize us further.

Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.

Phil Monroe
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