It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the US, or more than 50 million people, suffer from some form of mental illness. That means that no matter how large or small your church may be, the odds are very good that someone in your congregation is suffering. Nevertheless, the relationship between the faith community and mental health has for too long been characterized by tension, misunderstanding, and even denial. But as a faith leaders, it is at once our calling and our responsibility to minister to those in pain, to tend to the wounded, to help the helpless.
In some traditions, persons of faith have been enjoined to take their troubles to the God of their understanding. They are advised to pray their way through it, to strengthen their faith in the face of adversity.
To be sure, this is, to a large extent, sound advice. Research is increasingly proving what the faithful have known for millennia, that a strong spiritual foundation can be a profound benefit to one’s mental health. Time spent in meditation, prayer, spiritual study, and worship can reduce anxiety and create a sense of calm, purpose, and wellbeing.
That does not mean, however, that faith practices alone are always sufficient for those who are suffering. Indeed, feelings of sadness, anger, and even despair are by no means incompatible with faith. Even Christ experienced these emotions when He assumed human form and, in so doing, took on groanings of flesh and spirit that are universal to human experience.
Supporting the mental wellbeing of our church communities, then, must begin with both the premise and the teaching that mental health struggles are not irreconcilable with faith, that to experience mental illness signals neither faithlessness nor hopelessness. Similarly, to seek mental healthcare is not to turn away from God or put one’s faith in humans above one’s faith in God.
Being a faith leader is about more than preaching the gospel, leading worship, or lifting up the sick and sorrowful in prayer. Being a faith leader is also about making use of the tools that we are given, including the care of trained mental health practitioners, to help heal the hurting.
To that end, here is a list of resources for your ongoing work of supporting parishioners with mental health concerns.
5 Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Youth in Your Church
Research has shown that the marginalization of transgender persons often includes their ability to access proper physical and mental healthcare. Here are 5 ways to support LGBTQIA+ youth.
12 Things Your Congregation Can Do in Mental Health Ministry
The Presbyterian Church USA offers an extensive list of Mental Health Ministry Resources including this article on 12 Things Your Congregation Can Do in Mental Health Ministry.
Interfaith Network on Mental Illness
INMI is an interfaith organization that affirms spirituality is an important component of recovery from mental illness.
Mental Health Grace Alliance
The Mental Health Grace Alliance was created to offer a whole-health approve to mental health challenges based on both evidence-based science and Biblical teachings.
Mental Health Ministries Resources was founded by a United Methodist Minister in 2001. It is a web-based interfaith outreach offering downloadable print and media resources on mental health and the recovery and treatment processes.
NAMI’s FaithNet is a list of websites that offer faith-based mental healthcare. Resources | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI)
The FBCI is a partnership between a federal agency and faith-based and community organizations that provide mental health services, substance abuse prevention, and addiction treatment at all municipal levels. Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI) | SAMHSA
Editor’s Note: We acknowledge that different faith communities have different theologies around mental illness. Before using the resource recommendations above, make sure that the information shared aligns with the theology of your context.