Let's TalkPhoto: © BrianAJackson/iStock.com

Let’s Talk

Is the church doing enough to support people with mental illness?

January 25, 2017 by Captain Mark Braye


Wednesday, January 25 is Bell Let’s Talk Day—a campaign to raise awareness and fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. For every text message, wireless or long-distance call made by Bell customers, for every share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, Bell will donate money to programs dedicated to mental health.

It’s an initiative that creates space for an important and necessary conversation. The numbers are alarming—one in five Canadians will experience mental illness at some time in their lives. Close to 10 percent will experience major depression. In any given week, more than 500,000 people will miss work due to mental illness. Every year, nearly 4,000 Canadians die by suicide.

Even more heartbreaking than the statistics are the stories they represent. These are our family members, friends and co-workers who are suffering. We all know someone who has been affected by mental illness; no one’s life has been untouched.

Our culture is doing a much better job at understanding mental health issues and responding with acceptance and compassion. I wish the same were true for the church. There are too many stories of Christians dismissing or belittling the struggles of their sisters and brothers in Christ, too much hostility to therapy and medication.

Perhaps you have heard—or perhaps you have said—the following statements: “Have more faith” or “Pray more.” These suggestions imply that those suffering from anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness are just bad Christians. I hope anyone this misinformed never has to learn how ignorant they are the hard way.

My life has a dark chapter on depression. I cried uncontrollably. Some days I struggled to fall asleep, other days I struggled to wake up. I was in physical pain. I was in mental and emotional turmoil. I felt sad, mad, afraid, ashamed and embarrassed. I felt nothing. I couldn’t eat and then I would overeat. I couldn’t focus and settle to read. I was not myself; it took the absolute good out of me.

I spent several days in the hospital and was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. I was prescribed medication and received intense counselling.

Today, I’m much better, more myself. I’ve experienced a lot of healing over the past few years. What helped me get here? Medication, professional counselling, family and friends, God. Think of these four elements as the legs of a table. If your mental and emotional well-being is resting on a table, it’s better to have four strong legs holding it up, rather than one, two or three.

There are countless articles, books and resources, both Christian and non-Christian, to help those suffering from mental illness, and those who love them. Being informed is a good place to start. Another way to help is to simply listen.

In Scripture, many passages, from both the Old and New Testaments, offer insight or encouragement about mental health. One that means a lot to me and helps me empathize with others struggling with mental illness is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

That’s what I needed, and continue to need, to hear. That’s what thousands of children, women and men suffering from depression or other mental health issues need, too.

Captain Mark Braye is the corps officer at Sarnia Community Church, Ont.

Comments

  1. Kathie Chiu says:

    Thanks for this article and sharing your personal journey. The more those of us who share about our difficulties with mental health the better the church will deal with people who are suffering.

    God bless you!
    Katnie

  2. Stuart MacMillan says:

    Great article Mark!

  3. Alonzo Twyne says:

    Thanks but remember we all have mental problems because we have Spiritual problems. Adam and Eve didn’t have mental challenges until they separated from God. Yes, we do have the responsibility to help each other but our (TSA) mandate is to sow the seed of the Gospel. Fewer children hear “Jesus Loves Me’ these days because of the lack of Sunday Schools. If your Church family does not have a Children’s Program then it should not excist. Our Rehabitlation Programs are focusing on Mental Health but have dropped “Christ is The Answer’. This is a reality – Believe it , or not.

  4. Ray Harris says:

    I fear that the above posting may give the impression that mental health issues stem from a lack of spirituality. Correspondingly it can also imply that the gospel will somehow dispel those concerns from the life of Christian faith. The gospel is transforming, and does play a role. But a woman who goes into a deep depression following the birth of a child, or a first-responder who is traumatized by his work, or a Salvation Army officer who requires medical help for mental health issues, is not lacking trust in a faithful God. The experience of mental health concerns is an expression of our humanity, not lack of it. One psalmist recalls the moment when “darkness was her only companion” (Ps 88:18). As an expression of the gospel we in the church are called to accompany our friends in their darkness. They are exhibiting more courage than we may ever know.

  5. Lorna Simard says:

    Alonzo it is simply not true that all mental illness is a spiritual problem. Some mental illness for example is caused by chemical imbalance of the brain. Christians can even be subject to that. Sometimes committed Christians have been damaged and scarred by their childhood experiences and need more than to be told “Christ is the answer” to become mentally healthy. God uses the skills of psychiatrists and medication to help people. We would never say to a person with diabetes “Christ is the Answer” . I believe Mark is right – the spiritual is but one leg holding the table evenly balanced.

    Well written article Mark.

  6. Derek Kerr says:

    Thank you Lorna for pointing out that mental illness is not a spiritual problem. Many factors can contribute to someone who is suffering from a mental illness. As Major Ray pointed out in his comments “as an expression of the gospel we in the church are called to accompany our friends in their darkness.” Some of the strongest people of faith I’ve known have suffered in silence for fear of having their faith questioned. As a church we must be doing more to remove the stigma around mental illness and show love and compassion to those who are still suffering in silence.

  7. Alonzo Twyne says:

    My indication was that all mental illness comes from the original sin . Therefore we all have mental challenges. We are more out of order if we do not have a relationship with God. If there is no Hope then the darkness grows greater and people have no reason to live.

  8. Morris Vincent says:

    Thank you Mark for a great article. The subject matter continues to be extremely complicated and misunderstood, particularly for people who may not have had personal experience. I pray daily, “Lord, help me/us to walk a mile in your shoes before even thinking of passing judgement or offering of the cuff solutions.” I commend you for your courage in sharing your story. I appreciate being permitted to share in your journey.

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