When it comes to assessing mental health in the local church, we need to be cognisant of the fact that we are assessing, not diagnosing. Diagnostic work needs to be handled by professionals with diagnostic tools. We are assessing (which is a subjective perspective of looking at the overall mental health of the congregation). I would suggest it is imperative that we never reach the state of a “healthy church” …. because this would indicate we are not including those going through a difficult time in their life. At times all of us may be in a state of unhealth. If we are healthy, we are not reaching the struggling in our community.
There are texts such as I Cor.12:22-26 suggesting the parts of the local church that seem weaker are indispensable and require “special attention.” We need to think of the local church more as a place of triage rather than a place of health. The World Health Organization defines “Mental Health” as:
A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, as is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
Mental Health challenges includes such areas as psychosis (*a detachment of reality). We need to be careful not to “over spiritualize” psychosis….it is often a chemical imbalance involving dopamine and serotonin. When certain people only take the perspective of “demonic activity” I often push back by stating “it is amazing that the demons have not deciphered a way to overcome medication,” as medication will often assist the brain to function normally.
In addition, there can be mood disorders (people going through bouts of depressive moods). For example, I have experienced bipolar disorders in the church community where people have had large mood swings (from a manic state …whereby one feels they can conquer the world to a highly depressive state). One of the largest areas of concern in the local church incorporates anxiety-related issues. In a previous blog I noted that some anxiety is normal. The amygdala has been placed into our brain to warn us of danger. For instance, crossing a busy road creates a reaction from the amygdala. This is known as “Situational Anxiety.” However, there is a danger that “Situational Anxiety” can become chronic…. whereby we are always anxious, even if there is no real reason for us to remain in an anxious state.
One of the best ways to deal with “Situational Anxiety” is for us to lead our congregations through preaching and prayer. Prayer for needs and the healing messages from the pulpit can assist our congregations in dealing with anxiety. The other way to deal with “Situational Anxiety” is for us to encourage small groups, and or accountability partners. We can easily get into “cognitive distortions” if we do not have someone to sift through our life events. My wife Elaine assists me the most in this area. If, for instance, I receive a harsh sounding email, I may take offence to this. Elaine has a way of placing this into context—thus removing the potential for cognitive distortions. Chronic anxiety can lead to acute anxiety—whereby people can have panic attacks, etc.
Finally, some of our parishioners may have experienced traumatic events, leading to PTSD. Often these mental health challenges lead to social struggles. I have dealt with substance use overdoses, sexual addictions, etc. in the church. Furthermore, suicidal thinking is on the rise.
I believe it is the church’s duty to look out for the weaker ones and make ministry opportunities available for those struggling with mental health challenges. Churches are now developing small group ministries assisting those with mental health challenges. One of these ministries gaining popularity is the program “Sanctuary.” This is a ministry that can be used in a small group format. I am grateful that God designed the church to care for the “weaker ones.”
The church needs to be a triage place to help us in our weaker times.