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Making church welcoming and supportive for those with mental health problems

August 7 2015


One in four people experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. With 21 million of us going to church in the UK every year over five million will be suffering from a mental health problem at any given time.

A place like church should be a perfect place in the community to find help but without the knowledge to identify and care for those in need it can be a scary and damaging environment.

It can be difficult for church leaders to find the time to study the subject of mental health and the various issues around it to help those in their church. But even our leaders are not immune – one in five ministers suffer from depression each year. They are human after all.

Mental health affects too many of us to be ignored, so where do we start looking to educate ourselves about it?

The Mental Health Access Pack created by Livability and Mind and Soul is a reliable, Christian-based resource for church leaders which presents the facts on key mental health issues all in one place. It offers churches simple tools on how best to support those with mental health issues and also points to other trusted organisations working in the area of mental health.

There are also ways we can change how we interact with each other to help identify those who might need help and make them feel more included and supported.

Ask people how they are and what you can do to help them

When you know someone has a mental health condition and is particularly ill, ask them how they are, in the same way you would ask someone with a broken leg.

Asking ‘how are you doing this week?’ and letting them guide the conversation shows that you’re interested in their welfare, and allows them to respond as they choose.

Asking someone what you can do to help in a practical way takes this one step further.

Take the time to understand what a diagnosis means

What is depression? What is bipolar? Let’s recognise that mental health problems are more than a bad week or a weak mind.

Learn what it means to have the mental health condition that someone has and then ask them how that looks to them. It will be different for each person, so try not to assume one person will be the same as others.

Talk about mental health, both one to one and from the front of church

It’s important that we think about the language we use. People can be hurt by what we say but this can more often than not be unintentional.

For example, whilst the desire is often to encourage people to think positively, sometimes it’s helpful to empathise and let them know that you understand how hard a challenge that can be.

The language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is exclusive. The reality is that we are all affected directly or indirectly by mental health. Recognising this fact will help us to adapt our language to be inclusive.

Follow up with people if you notice their absence – it can go a long way

Often people with mental health problems might struggle to attend church services, for a variety of reasons. A quick text to say ‘hey, noticed you weren’t there today, is everything ok?’ can go a long way.

Include those with known mental health problems in serving within the church in the same way as any other church member – God has given them gifts they would like to use.

Include those with ongoing stories of mental ill health in testimonies given from the front

It’s very difficult if everyone who speaks in church seems to be successful and together. It’s important to give testimonies that show God at work but having a balance of continued suffering that God is working through, along with those who have gone through tough times and come out the other side, gives hope for the future while not excluding those who have an ongoing struggle.

It demonstrates that they are not alone.

Pray with people

Often people are told that prayer, joy and faith are the way out of mental illness. This is not always a deliberate message, in fact it usually comes through someone’s desire to help.

However, recognising that mental illness is not a simple issue with a straightforward answer will help you to walk alongside those with mental health problems, supporting them in their faith rather than condemning them.

It’s also very helpful to draw attention to those in the Bible who lived life with God, but also lived through incredibly difficult times.

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