This post is a follow up to “What I Wish The Church Knew About Mental Health.” I’m going to skip conversations about developing awareness and educating yourself as well as others about details of mental health, so if you want to read up on it, click here.
For this conversation, we’re not debating on whether the Church should do anything for people with mental illnesses. This is a given. We’re also not debating creating a separate ministry that is completely removed from the general congregation, but an inclusive ministry. So if I had it my way, what would the Church do to integrate the conversation and acceptance of mental illness?
Below is a list of all of the things I would love to see happen with churches who make the commitment to be more inclusive in addressing mental health issues. If your church can do this whole list, I’ll be completely shocked. You honestly will be ahead of most churches.
Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic.
Dr. Steve Grcevich says in his book Mental Health and the Church, it’s not about doing everything. Instead, it’s knowing how you want your church to serve your community and making the necessary changes and impact.
Our church has a huge inner-city ministry that serves the basic needs of learning to read and washing clothes. A counseling center for the hurting, a crisis response team to serve those who have immediate needs previously unknown to our church, is also available. At the moment, we don’t have a sanctuary in our main building conducive to those with trauma, social anxiety disorder, autism, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. We hope to be more inclusive with our youth groups, but we still need to build up volunteers. We also don’t have immediate plans to make changes.
All of this is okay. We are doing what we can within our church’s capacity, and how it directly impacts our church’s vision. The best part is we will support any church where others need to go that can’t plug in with us.
Your Mental Health Inclusion Should Serve The Whole Church
I want to make sure I fully communicate another philosophy Dr. Grcevich says about integrating mental health within the Church. No changes you make to your church should only help people with mental illness. We need to avoid “pushing aside” those with mental illness and special needs, which ostracizes and further stigmatizes them. We are not creating a mental health ministry that sets people apart but making changes that will serve the whole community.
The church needs to talk about mental illness as it promotes mental health in general. If you do not have a mental illness diagnosis, your church can still directly impact your life. Isn’t Scripture supposed to be promoting life within people? If so, let’s live it out in the changes we make below.
If you make a crisis response team, let it be there to not only help the person who is having a psychotic break but also to allow others around continue to connect with God and feel safe as individual is being cared for. If you have a suicide prevention policy, it should be communicated for the whole church to hear, not just people who might have severe depression or bipolar disorder.
7 Things Your Church Could Do Immediately
These are changes your church could implement in the next three to six months. They do not require a big budget nor an interior decorator to come in and change the church design. You don’t have to rework your church’s vision and mission statement, nor do you need expensive training for a crisis response team.
- Mental Health Awareness Cards
The biggest issue we face with mental health within the Church is stigma and the fastest way to address this is with building awareness. I created these over the last 8 months, putting them in front of pastors, counselors, and laypeople in order to here thoughts on how to improve this.Time was not rushed on these. It educates people on what the mental illness is, clinical ways to address them, and how faith integrates with each. At the bottom is also a tear-off card for people who want more information, prayer, or to serve with your church on mental health.
- Create a mental health team within your church.
Of course, the previous point leads naturally into this. Create a mental health team that is comprised of mental health professionals within your church, medical people (including registered nurses or doctors), a championing pastor, and parents of children with special needs or those who have a strong passion and calling to serve.Allow them to look at the shortcomings and strengths of your church as you begin to develop a mental health inclusive ministry. If you need help with this, Key Ministry actually offers free consultation on how to set this up. Also, they have a TON of videos here too.
- Create A Suicide Prevention Policy
This is one of those projects I did after too many youth pastors kept talking about having teenagers attempting or succeeding in committing suicide but were unsure how to respond or what they could have done differently. I created it for your church to have NOW so that if it impacts your community, you can be immediately ready.
- Preach about this.
This is simple but requires buy-in from the teaching and lead pastor. Might I recommend May, as it is Mental Health Awareness month? Then have resources available afterward to give to your congregation if they have more questions. Here’s a post I shared when my church did this very process this last May.
- Talk openly with your congregation.
Along with the previous discussion of building awareness to reduce stigma, I’d encourage church leaders, elders, and volunteers who are at a place to comfortably speak on the topic of mental illness to share their own experiences, both within themselves as well as within their family. Do not put people on blast and be caring, but when a pastor from the pulpit shares their own anxiety symptoms, it can have a profound impact.
- Invite the community, but also go into the community.
Part of this should be, “how do we impact the people who come into our church” but I also hope that your church’s perspective also goes to “how can we take this into the community?” If someone has a mental illness, they are FAR more likely to NOT come to anyone’s church.So for you to make changes and sit back hoping and praying people to come is simply folly. Go to them. Meet their basic needs of food and clothing. Help them get to your church and maybe even have a church liaison that coordinates all of this.
- Look at doing Christian mental health groups
If you run small groups at your church, this is an easy jump. And you do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are already a bunch of Christian mental health groups out there which are not only evidence-based, but integrate a solid Christian theology.
These are just some of the things I wish the Church did about mental health.
So, what can your church DO about mental health at your church?