6 Christian Mental Health Conversations
#TimeToTalk day is a brilliant reminder of how important community is in mental health recovery. Over the last 12 years of working in the Mind and Soul Foundation, it is a great encouragement to see how many informed and compassionate mental health conversations are happening within our churches.
However, whilst things are becoming so much better, classical stigma is giving way to an ‘informed-hybrid’. This is a narrative that has moved on from calling mental health issues simply sin, disobedience or demonic attack, but still leave mental health sufferers feeling wounded. We thought it might be helpful to highlight 6 'hybrid' examples so that we can make our conversations even more grace filled.
1. The Trust Conversation
What they say: “As you learn to trust God more you will find that your anxiety will gradually fade away.”
What you hear: “My mental health problem is a result of my lack of trust in God, it will disappear as I go deeper in my faith.”
What MASF thinks: Anxiety disorders impact people with a deep trust in God and are not related to the strength of a person’s faith. Anxiety issues also fluctuate over time and need long term management, they tend not to improve on their own but through awareness, medication, talking therapy and self-help strategies.
2. The Self-Indulgent Conversation
What they say: “Lots of Biblical greats like Job and Elijah were depressed, the key thing to remember is that they didn’t pander to their depression, but got on with the ministry God had called them to.”
What you hear: “It’s not ok to be self-indulgent and be impacted by my mental health problems. I need to ignore my pain and get on with what God’s calling me to.”
What MASF thinks: God never criticises people suffering with depression in the bible, indeed he does the opposite; he comforts them and meets their needs. Dealing with emotional pain is not self-indulgent any more than dealing with physical pain. We all need to offer and receive the comfort of God without qualification, that’s grace!
3. The 'Personal Cross' Conversation
What they say: “We all have our own cross to bear, for you it maybe your mental health issues. The good news is that in heaven there will no more weeping or gnashing of teeth.”
What you hear: “I am never getting any better this side of heaven. God is responsible for me carrying this cross. Life is hopeless this side of eternity.”
What MASF thinks: We can identify with the suffering of Christ in our sufferings, but these are not fixed God ordained things. Mental health issues, like physical disabilities provoke suffering but also creativity and gifting. They do not define our identity or reflect the sum of our struggles. We can live life well this side of heaven with mental health problems.
4. The 'Undermining Mission' Conversation
What they say: “The enemy is using mental health issues to make the church inward looking. As long as we are being introspective we are losing our effectiveness in mission.”
What you hear: “Mental health issues are a weapon of Satan to stop people meeting Jesus. As long as I am talking about mental health, I am undermining the Gospel.”
What MASF thinks: Jesus was the ultimate pastoral leader who loved the hurting and broken like no other. He calls us to ‘take care of the sheep’ with the same care and love that he demonstrated. Supporting people with mental health problems in the church is fulfilling the spirit of The Beatitudes and The Great Commission. It is the very thing that will make our message heard in a sceptical world.
5. The 'Already Healed' Conversation
What they say: “You have already been healed of you mental health problem, now you just need to agree with the healing that you have received.”
What you hear: “Your disobedience is keeping you ill.”
What MASF thinks: Sometimes we need to choose the behaviours that we have decided for in our minds. However, this is not the same as choosing a healing! Mental health recovery is not about disobedience, but it is sometimes about courage. No one with the flu is disobedient by feeling unwell, equally no one with depression is disobedient by feeling low. Let’s not confuse healing steps with the healing itself.
6. The Medication Conversation
What they say: “Medication is OK, but you haven’t been called to rely on it for ever, you need to step forward in your faith journey so that this crutch is no longer needed.”
What you hear: “Medication is a weak alternative to real recovery. I should get off it a quickly as possible so that I can do this recovery right.”
What MASF thinks: Medication is a valid, necessary and often essential part in mental health recovery. It is neither less virtuous nor effective than other sorts of treatments in most cases. Just as with conditions like diabetes in physical health, many psychotic illnesses will require a life-long medication regime. This is wholly good and right and should be actively supported by the Christian community.
For more resources, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk