How Churches Can Address Mental Health Issues
The majority of pastors (66%) rarely speak to their churches about mental illness, revealed a recent study conducted by LifeWay Research. According to families with mentally ill members, this is not enough. 65 percent of those families want their churches to talk about mental illnesses more openly.
People with mental illness need spiritual guidance. Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, stated, “Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help, but pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”
Pastors are not reluctant to talk about mental illness because they do not understand it. Sixty percent of pastors offer counseling services to people with mental illnesses, but 22 percent of them do not talk about mental health because it takes too much time and resources. Most churches (68%) maintain lists of local mental health resources. However, few church families (28%) are aware that those resources exist.
Here’s the kicker: one quarter (23%) of pastors struggle with mental illness, which is on par with the national average of people that struggle with mental illness. According to Stetzer, “If you reveal your struggle with mental illness as a pastor, it’s going to limit your opportunities.”
Some suggestions for churches:
1. Talk about mental illness. From the pulpit; in small groups everywhere. Don’t be afraid to discuss it as a spiritual illness. Many of our fathers in the faith struggled with mental illnesses at some point.
2. Make resources available. This means not only developing a resource list of mental health professionals and mental health organizations, but openly publicizing the list. Since mental health includes spiritual health, churches need to support their members and point them in a helpful direction.
3. Get help for leaders. Pastors need help addressing mental health issues too. Churches, or at least the executive leaders, need to understand mental health and encourage transparency and acceptance of its leaders. Pastors can lead by example in helping churches respond to mental illness in healthy ways.
The full research report can be be dowloaded here.