Mental Illness and the Church


mental disorders and church

Recently I ran across a blog post about the church and its “disability” to handle mental disabilities. I thought it was a great blog. However as a pastor and job coach for those with mental and physical disabilities, I didn’t feel the blog post answered the question I had which is, “What can the church do?”

In a study conducted by Matthew Stanford from Baylor University in 2007, published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture some interesting results were found.

30% of attendees who sought help from their church for themselves or a family member because of a mental health condition reported negative interactions counterproductive to treatment.

Women are significantly more likely than men to report being told by their church that they don’t have a mental health disorder (37%), discouragement from their church about the use of medication for mental disorders (23%), and report negative interactions with their church (41%).

Reports of negative interactions from church attendees fall into three categories: abandonment or lack of involvement by the church (60%), mental disorder considered the result of demonic activity (21%), and mental disorder considered the result of a lack of faith / personal sin (19%).


15% of adults who sought help from their church for a mental illness for themselves or a family member reported a weakening of faith as a result of their interaction, and for 13%, their interaction resulted in the end of their involvement with their faith.

So far in my time in ministry, I have dealt with people with autism, seizures, PTSD/TBI, schizophrenia, depression, anxieties, bulimia, and mental retardation. I find it odd that until I began working as a job coach, I never thought of there being an issue with the church not understanding how to handle this issue. It was only when I read the article mentioned at the beginning that it brought light to me that this is a huge problem.

When I read that the most prominent negative interaction from the church is lack of involvement, I thought to myself that this is unacceptable. From my experience, I have always seen the church react to mental disabilities as sin or demonic oppression. The church’s answer was either convince the one to repent of sins previously committed or attempt an exorcism.

I don’t have the answers for what the church should do. I don’t think another program is the way to go as had been stated by another blogger I read. When I read this blog, I can’t help but maybe lean in agreement that maybe sometimes Jesus is not all you need. I dealt with depression for three years but never received medication. I found Jesus or for the theologically correct rather, Jesus found me. Am I saying that because I overcame my depression through Jesus others can too? I would like to think that. But do some need medication too? I just really don’t know. It’s something I recently am wrestling with.

This is where I’m at. What can the church do about mental illness? Can the church do anything? Should it be left to the “professionals” to minister to the mental illnesses that seem to becoming even more prevalent in recent generations. I’m thinking this can no longer be swept under the rug by the church. It’s has to become something we become aware of. Prayer is beneficial. I’ve experienced answered prayer and God is able to heal all but is there a time when medication is the go to format for healing those with a mental illness? Should the church only be involved with mental illnesses simply to educate against the stigma or should it be involved in the healing process?

You tell me your thoughts.

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About Kevin Riner
child of grace, worshiper of Jesus, husband, father, Pastor of Village Church, author of Faith Debugged

10 Responses to Mental Illness and the Church

  1. angeorge21 says:

    Personally I think this is a huge gap in the church, and that there is such an opportunity for ministry here. I remember Matt telling me that when he came back from his first deployment (Long before I was around) that he was having such a hard time with PTSD and other things happenning in his life that he drove around town looking for an open church on a weekday and he didnt find a single one…all he wanted was someone to talk to. I know he isn’t the first and definitely won’t be the last to run into church in an attempt to find sanctuary…safety. But when people like that run to find help and there is nothing there for them….or they are told its happening because of sin….or lack of faith..that in the end it will more than likely push that person further from the arms of God. I know a lot of churches who don’t believe in medications for mental illness, and back in the day I could see how certain mental illnesses could be mistaken as demon possession and what not, but I think we are very fortunate to live in an age now where medicine isn’t as scary or mysterious as it once was and that God has given some the ability to see and understand things that not everyone can….like doctors. I believe God put us on this earth without giving us all the answers so we would discover things for ourselves….and I believe that treating with medications is just one of those opportunities, and while the world has the Medicine side figured out I think the church in a lot of ways is still stuck in its archaic past….leaving people to feel like they can’t come forward or that Church isn’t the place for such people…. which couldn’t be further from the truth. IDk…lol this spurred on a lot of thoughts! Lol Sorry it’s so long!

    • Kevin Riner says:

      No, lots of thoughts are good. I was spurred just the other day so I have lots of thoughts as well. I only hope I can put the pieces together. I’m just now learning about this even though I have death with it in the past. I didn’t know it was such a big issue. Pastor Carlo and I just went to a seminar on PTSD and suicide prevention and I’m amazed at the statistics that came out of that.

      Thanks for your comment Ashleigh. I hope Matt is doing better now.

  2. pastorcarlo says:

    Research has shown that reducing stigma associated with mental illness drastically aids in the long-term prognosis of the mentally ill. For example, one of the “burdens” felt by the mentally ill is discrimination in public life (Holmes, Corrigan, Williams, Canar, and Kubiak, 1999). According to Homes et al. (1999), research has shown that individuals with schizophrenia are victims of discrimination in the workplace, criminal justice system, and other areas where the schizophrenic may interact with the public at large (church). Basically, the general population seems to take one of three positions when it comes to attitude and mental illness (Holmes et al., 1999). The first attitude taken by the general public regarding the disorder is authoritarianism (Holmes et al.,1999). This attitude takes the stance that the mentally ill are unable to control themselves; therefore, others should control their lives. The second attitude taken by the general public regarding mental disorders is benevolence (Holmes et al., 1999). Like authoritarianism, this attitude takes the stance that the mentally ill cannot control themselves (Holmes, et al., 1999). However, benevolence differs from authoritarianism in that benevolence takes the stance that people with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses are child-like; therefore, they need to be taken care of. The third attitude taken by the general public is fear and exclusion (Holmes et al.,1999). Sadly, this attitude is the most prevalent amongst those who are uneducated about the realities of mental disorders (Holmes, et al., 1999). This attitude takes the stance that the mentally ill are a threat and menace to society; therefore, they should be segregated from the rest of so-called normal society (Holmes, et al., 1999).

    All three of the aforementioned attitudes are problematic not only for the people who ignorantly hold them, but for the mentally ill individual who deserves the right to function freely in society. I believe that the church should be in the business of not only de-bunking the false myths surrounding mental illness, the church should showcase individuals who are not just surviving but thriving in spite of their disorder. Thankfully, a new wave of advocacy groups has taken up the campaign of removing the stigma from mental disorders (Holmes, et al., 1999). Their research suggests that educational programs, which increase the factual knowledge about mental disorders like schizophrenia, actually help to reverse negative attitudes about mental disorders (Holmes, et al., 1999).

    Remaining ignorant, silent, or super-spiritual is no longer an option.

    References:

    Corrigan, P.W., Larson, J.E., & Kuwabara, S.A. (2007). Mental illness stigma and the fundamental components of supported employment. Rehabilitation Psychology, 52(4), 451-457.

    Holmes, E. P., Corrigan, P. W., Williams, P., Canar, J., & Kubiak, M. A. (1999). Changing attitudes about schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 25(3), 447-456. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/614339451?accountid=8289

  3. Pingback: Mental Disorders in America | Whang Communication Production

  4. Brad Rhine says:

    Good stuff, Kevin! As the adoptive father of a little boy with more than his share of issues (including autism, PTSD, and others), we see this all the time. This is absolutely something the church needs to learn how to handle, from the children’s ministry on up. It’s not going to get better on its own.

  5. Pingback: Is mental illness a sin? | Thoughts of Sam Isaacson

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think if ministerial professionals do not have a Ph.D. behind their name as a trained mental health therapist, they need to refer congregation members to another Christian who does, that is equipped to handle complex cases of mental illness. I would not ask a minister to provide medical help if I had cancer unless the minister was also a doctor, preferably an oncologist.
    There are some cases where intensive cognitive behavioral therapy is needed to wade through issues like PTSD, and emotions or thoughts a person doesn’t even fully understand or have full control of, as in cases of authentic chemical imbalances in the brain.

    Please don’t misunderstand, I am not knocking using Scripture, prayer, wisdom from the Bible, and Christian counsel as methods to minister to those with mental illness. I myself, have personally benefitted from all of these things, sometimes way more than I expected to. I don’t think these things should be minimized. I have had profound insights into some of the maladaptive ways I handle life, after praying to God about not understanding why I have almost uncontrollable anger. Flashes of insight have come to me about this issue in different ways that point to some valid reasons for this particular thing. I have been quite suicidal during a very difficult time of my life (lost an old friend and my own brother to suicide a little over a year ago), along with battling with a very complex anxiety disorder, along with residue from past trauma. Playing CDs in the car with messages about God, having faith, and self-worth on my way to work, on my lunch break and on my way home, have helped keep me from battering myself with thoughts of self-hatred, have planted seeds of hope, made my emotional / mental burden lighter, and have quite strongly kept me away from committing suicide. These things are not just a “feel-good” fix, but they are valid and work on the soul and the mind at the deepest levels. I do not for one second want to take away from any of these things. At the same time, I think some cases of mental illness (biochemical, psychological or both) intensive therapy with a mental health professional who is trained and skilled about a particular illness should be sought out for therapy. I don’t think this is minimizing or refusing the solutions that Christianity offers, actually, some of these can be re-enforced in therapy; it’s more an issue of getting targeted treatment at a level, intensity and duration needed for a person dealing with a mental illness. Obviously, a finding a therapist with a Christian world-view is ideal if therapy is sought.

    • Kevin Riner says:

      In Matthew Stanford’s book, Grace For The Afflicted, He talks about three parts of us, body, soul and mind. He says that ePastor should handle the spiritual side of it and leave it to the doctors to handle the body side if that may mean prescriptions and therapy for the mind.

      So I would agree with you Anonymous. Thanks for your comment.

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