Mental illness is very real and is far too often misunderstood and misappropriated in the Body of Christ. NAMI also known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, reported in 2016 that 1 out of every 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million or, 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13-18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
That’s a staggering statistic. Not to mention, in the Christian community, only 59% of pastors have counseled one or more people who were eventually diagnosed with an acute mental illness. Is this due to a lack of understanding of mental illness? Or is it because of a misunderstanding of the gospel and how situations like these should be handled?
Michael R. Lyles discusses this in his article, Is Your Church Healthy for People with Mental Illness? One woman recounts her negative experience at her church and how it re-traumatized her in a different manner.
“I feel so alone at church. I invite people over for meals and try to make friends. But when they find out that I’m bipolar, they either preach to me about sin and healing or ignore me. I refuse to be invisible about my illness. However, I long for true friendships and community. I don’t need a sermon. I need a friend who will see me as a person. I need a hug … and perhaps someone who will try new recipes with me.”
Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay know first hand the painful and devastating effects that mental illness can have on a family. Their son, Matthew took his own life after a long battle with depression and they, along with their church family raise awareness about mental health issues and what needs to be done in order to help those who suffer in silence.
As believers, our primary focus should be on exemplifying Christ and His love for others. No one should suffer in silence and it shouldn’t be something that people are afraid to speak up about. 1 Peter 3:8-9 NKJV says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you may inherit a blessing.” Since we are made in the image of Christ, we are called to love and accept others as He does.
This means, reaching out to our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are going through a difficult time, and then keeping up with them so they don’t feel alone. It’s a simple gesture but it can literally mean the difference between life and death. If we can get to a point in the body of Christ where we can put our feelings and misconceptions aside and just become love, it can certainly save the lives of countless people suffering from mental illness.