“I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
I called 911, then my husband and then my pastor. She came minutes after the EMT arrived and sat with me until my husband came home. She did not take lightly the severity of my panic attack. To her it wasn’t ‘just anxiety’ that I needed to get a handle on, it was a severe warning sign that I needed an intervention and some radical self-care.
My pastors had a lot to lose when they lost me for a season to illness. We were a small church plant and I was an integral part of the vine.
I went up for prayers 100 times. They never grew weary of it.
I canceled last minute commitments because it was too much. They never made me feel guilty.
I asked for counsel and they never dismissed it with empty verses.
They walked me ‘through’ my illness with love and grace.
Within your church walls are men and women, teens, elderly, leaders and followers who are ravished with mental illness. Anxiety, depression and many with bouts of OCD are straining their ears towards God looking for healing but are often intercepted with insensitive teachings and a push to “do more”.
Some are so timid and fearful of letting on that their health is in crisis in fear of judgment or rejection. They feel that something is wrong with them. They fear God is disappointed in them for feeling this way. Many have tried to reach out in code words like: “I’ve been tired a lot” or “I’m not feeling well” when there is no evidence of an illness.
There is a culture of burnout in the church. One where service and duty outweigh rest and health. If you aren’t burning yourself out and sacrificing your all for the Kingdom, then you are not committed or are not doing your part. Or worse, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, your relationship with Jesus is broken.
Oh how soon we forget that Jesus came for the sick, the broken and the downcast. How quick we are to minister to perfection and push people into pastures of unhealthy expectations.
We need to first move church culture into a place where healing the mind becomes just as important as healing the soul. Where mental illness is taken seriously and there are practical measures and plans to help those in need.
Let’s start here:
10 Ways The Church Can Help Someone with Mental Illness Heal.
Below is a list of 10 ways the church can help those battling mental illness. I had a list of my own but I replaced them all with the comments from readers. This is what believers who battle mental illness are desperate for within the church.
1. Acknowledge that this is a real illness with medical causes.
2. Seek people out and include those who are struggling in community knowing that the illness forces them to isolate themselves.
3: Offer support to the person and family just as they would for someone who had surgery etc.
4: A better understanding that this is not something that goes away in a week, and the church should be willing to walk alongside the person no matter how long their journey to freedom takes.
5. Ensure we as people are validated as beloved by our heavenly Father.. ( rather than being told we are feeling like this because we are not praying or … enough).
6: Teach them practical ways to take their thoughts captive.
7. Teachings about people like David and Jonah is the bible who were depressed etc.
8. Have a Dr or knowledgeable mental health professional educate the congregation.
9. Help to find or create a small group geared towards anxiety, OCD, etc. with someone who knows it’s not just spiritual but then provides prayer and the spiritual support part.
10. Encourage them to seek a family doctor and counselor. Assist in finding the help they need such as counselor, church, community program, etc.
What would you add to this list? I’m glad that we are taking time to have this conversation. Know that I represent thousands of Christians who are looking to Jesus for healing. Can we work together? Share this post with your church and let’s start a conversation.
This was the second installation of a four-part series. This originally appeared on Saraheball.com and was republished with permission.
Sarah E. Ball, is an author, speaker and mental illness survivor. She inspires others to live fearlessly by sharing her humor, vulnerability and wisdom on overcoming anxiety. Sarah offers fearless hope to many through her blog – saraheball.com, online courses, speaking and book – Fearless in 21 Days, A Survivor’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety.