by Tasha Levi
A recent survey by Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that “a third of Americans – and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness.”
After losing his son, Matthew, to suicide, Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, launched a mental health literacy campaign called Hope for Mental Health. At an annual conference, he said it’s important for the body of Christ to better understand mental health. "When families have a mental illness crisis, the first person they call is not the school district or an attorney. The first person they call is not even a doctor. The first person they call, typically, when there is a crisis, is their [church].”
It can be hard to talk about mental health because of fear or lack of knowledge. In an interview I had with christian licensed mental health counselor Eileen Hawkins, she discussed common misconceptions about mental health and how we can empower ourselves with the knowledge and resources to best support our Christian brothers and sisters with acute mental illnesses including depression and bipolar disorder.
Common misconceptions about mental illness debunked:
Mental illness is always a sign of demonic possession or oppression.
False: There are many different known components to how someone may develop mental illness. It may be genetic, or environmental like war, trauma, or loss of a loved one. It’s okay not to know. Just don’t assume.
True Christians rejoice at all times.
False: Get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. Grief is okay. We see this with sackcloth and ashes in the bible, used as a sign of repentance and mourning. Esther 4:1, Mordecai tears his clothes wailing loudly and bitterly. There is a time to grieve, a time to mourn.
Mental illness is a sign of spiritual weakness.
False: In fact, a LifeWay research report suggests that a proper diagnosis, and medication, if necessary, can better help someone with mental illness thrive as a Christian.
Empower yourself with knowledge:
Know your strengths: Churches play an important role in creating a support system for people with acute mental illness. Even if they seek professional counseling, the more support, the better. The church is equipped with a gospel of compassion and community, and therefore, better situated to support and love those in need.
Know when to escalate: When should a pastor or leader invite a mental health professional into their counseling session? When it starts to impact their daily life functions. Look out for behavioral changes like difficulty getting to work, or focusing in school, or when someone starts to pull away from relationships or things they used to enjoy.
Know who to escalate to: Have a deferral system to a professional or counseling service you feel comfortable with.
Be present: Be a supporter and not a fixer. Hawkins, says that the tendency to want to “fix” people is rampant. You don't need to tell the person what to do. When we feel like we have to fix it, it becomes more about us.
We need to start treating mental health as importantly as we treat physical health. Entrepreneur and clean water activist, Sanu Delie says, “Being honest about how we feel doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.” If you or a loved one needs help, don’t hesitate to seek it out. It will only make you stronger.
If you know someone battling a mental health condition in the NY area, please contact:
Redeemer Counseling Services - Phone: 212-370-0475 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blanton Peale Institute - Phone: 212-725-7850 or Email: email@example.com
Wellsprings Counseling Center - Phone: 646-957-2322
Sobeyda Ellis - Phone: 917-922-8821 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Healthy Minds NY - Phone: 929-399-7120 or Email: email@example.com
Tasha is a proud Brooklyn-native who enjoys reading, writing, interior decorating, and traveling. She earned a B.A. in Political Science (with a focus on political inequality) from Temple University. Her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Khaled Hosseini.