According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, one out of every four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. These disorders include major disorders such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as; substance-abuse disorders and eating disorders. The statistics concerning mental health disorders in the United States are staggering. For example, in 2010, there were over 900,000 suicide attempts in the United States alone. Of those attempts, over 30,000 people successfully committed suicide (USA Suicide). While it might be assumed that statistics concerning mental health issues are less severe among Christians, a 2009 Christianity Today article suggests otherwise, “Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups … in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants” (Blazer). Ed Stetzer writes, “… people with mental illness are often attracted to religion and the church, either to receive help in a safe environment or live out the worst impulses of their mental illness [and] most churches, sadly, have few resources for help.” (Stetzer).
Even church leaders are not immune to the impact of mental health issues. In 2009, Frank Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, lost his 33-year-old daughter Melissa to suicide (Smietana) and in April of this year, mega-church pastor and author Rick Warren’s son Mathew committed suicide after a prolonged battle with depression. The issue has become so prevalent that the Southern Baptist Convention recently approved a resolution offering support for those suffering from mental illness and their families (Barnhart). These statistics and prominent examples alone dictate that the Church should examine mental health issues closely and devise a plan of action. There is a mental health crisis in the United States that is impacting our church members and we must meet it head on. One should expect the church to respond to mental health issues in a way that starkly contrasts that of the secular world, however, that is not always the case.
Dale Fletcher offers three very significant reasons why mental health issues benefit from being examined on a spiritual level. First, Christianity can offer a person with a mental health diagnosis “a sense of purpose and meaning” (Fletcher). Secondly, Fletcher asserts the Bible can help a person who suffers from mental health issues understand that suffering (Fletcher). Finally, Christianity (specifically, the local church) offers a person with a mental health disorder a much-welcomed opportunity to “connect with others” (Fletcher). Ideally, in a proper church setting, one who suffers from mental illness could seek and receive love and grace without the stigma that is normally associated with psychological diseases.
Of course, the Bible is well suited to speak to the needs of those with mental health diseases, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB). As such, there is no aspect of our life that Scripture cannot address, “For the Word if God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB). If the Bible is believed, than it must be expected that it can speak volumes into the conditions of the mentally ill. One writer argues, “One thing people with [mental health disorders] need more than anything else is the hope that is in Jesus Christ. Even though their illness tries to steal their lives away, they can have an abundant life in Christ” (Houdmann).
The Bible can shed a great deal of light on mental health and the method by which the Church and individual Christians respond to the mental health crisis in our country. Just no life is complete apart from a life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ, no treatment plan for mental health is complete without addressing the Spirit – along with the Mind and Body. I believe the Church can meet a need in our culture by coming alongside mental health professionals and providing much needed support to the mentally ill.
Related Posts: Mental Health and the Church: Introduction
Disclaimer: I am by no means a mental health professional and in this series of posts, I will be making no attempt to diagnose individuals or to supplant mental health treatment plans … that should be left to the professionals.
Barnhart, Melissa. “Suicide, Mental Health at the Forefront of Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.” The Christian Post 13 June 2013. Retrieved from Web 10 August 2013 <http://www.christianpost.com/news/suicide-mental-health-at-forefront-of-southern-baptist-convention-annual-meeting-97897/ >
Blazer, Dan. “The Depression Epidemic: Why We’re Down More Than Ever – and the Crucial Role Churches Play in Healing.” Christianity Today. Web. 10 August 2013. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/march/15.22.html>
Fletcher, Dale. “May is Mental Health Month – What Does the Bible Say?” FaithandHealthConnection.org. Retrieved from Web. 26 September 2013. http://www.faithandhealthconnection.org/may-is-mental-health-month-what-does-the-bible-say/
Houdmann, Michael. “What Does the Bible Say About Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression?” GotQuestions.Org. Retrieved from Web. 26 September 2013. <http://www.gotquestions.org/bipolar-manic-depression.html>
Smeitana, Bob. “Tackling Stigma of Mental Illness.” Century News 29 May 2013: 14-15. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Stetzer, Ed. “My Take: How Churches Can Respond to Mental Illness.” CNN Belief Blog. 7 April 2013. Web. Retrieved 10 August 2013. <http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/07/my-take-how-churches-can-respond-to-mental-illness/ >
“USA Suicide 2010 Official Final Data.” American Association of Suicidology. n.d. Web. 10 August 2013. <http://www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=262&name=DLFE-636.pdf>