How I Wish the Church Would Treat Those With a Mental Illness

church would treat mental illness

Guest writer Tara Ulrich gives some great advice on how she wishes the church would treat mental illness.

“There are so many board and care facilities in the shadows of our steeples and we don’t even know they are there.” These very words jumped off the page at me as I researched my final paper for my Loss and Grief class during seminary. How often do these words ring true for the church? How can the church be better about reaching out to those who daily struggle with one of the many mental health issues in our world?

I am the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. My mom had a nervous breakdown shortly after my sister was born. Growing up, we didn’t know anything different. Yet growing up, my sister and I kept pretty silent about Mom’s illness because we saw the stigma associated with the illness. We didn’t want others to know that part of our story. We sat in the pews almost every week praying for the sick and those in need yet only our hearts knew that those prayers included prayers we were saying for our mom and our family.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I was 18 years old and working at a Bible camp for the first time that I openly shared about our journey with mental illness. It makes me sad that I didn’t feel comfortable telling our story to anyone especially at church; the one place where we honestly should have been welcomed with open arms. Jesus himself was the first one to break bread with the downtrodden and the outcasts.

I am in no way here to condemn the church or God’s people, because I have been just as guilty as the next person. But I do want to share some ways that I believe the church and God’s people can make a difference in breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health issues.

4 ways the church can help #stopthestigma surrounding #mentalillness. Click To Tweet

1. Get to know me and my mom. Learn what we are passionate about. Share in our hopes and dreams together. But most of all, simply listen to our story and learn from it. “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story”—Brene Brown

2. Learn more about Mental Health by attending a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) convention or read more at their website: www.nami.org. There are so many great resources available on their website.

3. Start a support group in your area. I am so thankful that my mom’s doctor was so good about asking us if we had any questions. It helped me to understand mom’s illness so much better. There is power in knowing you are not alone!

4. Pray for all who daily struggle with mental illnesses and their families. Include them in the prayers of the people during worship. Mark Mental Illness Awareness Month (Oct) and Mental Health Month (May) during worship in one way or another.

5. Shower them with God’s love!

It took me a long time to tell my family’s story, but know I cannot not tell our story since it is so much of who and whose I am. You may not ever fully understand my journey, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, you can reach out to me by simply showing me and my family—especially my mom—and all who suffer with mental health issues God’s love. Together we can embrace who and whose we are; beloved children of God!

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Five excellent points. We certainly can’t pray for and support our brothers and sisters in Christ if we refuse to look squarely at their situation — or if mental illness becomes a “condition” or a “population” rather than individuals who need our practical love and informed prayers. Thank you and blessings to you!
    Michele Morin recently posted…Four Faith-Forward Lessons from the Life of MosesMy Profile

  • i liked your post today tara:) the only thing i might add to it is not to caricature those with mental health issues but get to know them as individuals. there are many, many diagnoses. getting to know a family affected in this way that might need some help at times, is not going to be the same in every situation.

    the chronically depressed person is going to be quite different from the bipolar person and depending on their family support system, they will function quite differently too. you touched on this, but i hate to think of people looking on a family with mental health issues as a project. it is much better to look at them as unique individuals even in their mental health problem. they are not a walking diagnosis. it can be easy to look at them that way sometimes unless they are someone we have known and love already.

    • Thank you Martha! Yes I agree 100% with your additional advice.
      Tara recently posted…Learning Who I AmMy Profile

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  • Good points. I was thinking that many of us aren’t exposed to mental illness, but that may be because people who deal with it are in our midst but, like Tara, have not felt free to share. May we always be open to listen to what’s on each others hearts.
    Barbara H. recently posted…Friday’s Fave FiveMy Profile

    • Thanks Barbara. Yes may we always be open to listen to what’s on each other’s hearts.
      Tara recently posted…Learning Who I AmMy Profile

  • We need to hear these suggestions, so thank you, Tara!

    I just went to a meeting a few weeks ago on ‘Mental Illness: Its Impact on Family, Faith and Community.’ It looks like that something’s going to get off the ground in this area … some kind of ongoing church related support and encouragement for those who struggle with brain health and their families.

    And check out what Saddleback Church has pulled together … Hope 4 Mental Health, a church related ministry that’s just been getting off the ground the last year.

    http://hope4mentalhealth.com/

    Let’s see what God does!
    Linda Stoll recently posted…5 Game-Changing House Redo Lessons * Creating a Haven :: 4My Profile

    • You’re welcome, Linda. I’m excited to hear progress is being made. I totally will check out what Saddleback Church is starting. It’s a step in the right direction.
      Tara recently posted…Learning Who I AmMy Profile

  • It seems the church tends to stigmatize those we are called to serve. Inspired by your words!
    Melissa recently posted…May ReadsMy Profile

    • Tara

      I’m glad my words inspired you friend!

  • I think sometimes fear plays a part in our churches, and it’s mostly fear of the unknown with mental illness, I think. We need to work hard to reach out and like Martha Brady said, we need to get to know them as individuals. I pray that God would help us overcome the stigmas and really spend time getting to know those with mental illness and also make ourselves available to help those who are caregivers and to show understanding. You are inspiring, Tara! Blessings to you!
    Gayl Wright recently posted…Literacy Musing Mondays: Eyes to SeeMy Profile

    • Tara

      Gayl, fear is indeed a part of the stigma. Thanks for stopping by. Blessings to you too!

  • I think it would be helpful also for people to take a class like Mental Health First Aid. It’s just an overview, but it sure would help people understand what mental illness can look like and active ways to help support those that are dealing with them.

    • Tara

      That’s a great suggestion.

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  • Love this… and all the tips! I am hopeful that the more this is openly talked about… the less stigmatism and ignorance the Church will walk in!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…When Small Wonders Add Up To KingdomMy Profile

    • Tara

      Thanks friend!! I so agree. The more we know the better. So let’s talk about it!! Love you friend!

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