“Mental Health and The Church” - Becky Vanderzee
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When go you through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the first of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” - Isaiah 43:2
The phrase “(s)he has mental health” has been bothering me lately. I have heard many people, including myself ashamedly, using this phrase to indicate that someone has a diagnosable mental health disorder. But this language is so wrong, and it leads the community to further ostracize a large population of people who are suffering from conditions of the mind and brain.
The truth is that we all “have mental health!” Just like we all have physical health, emotional health and spiritual health. The condition of each of these various aspects of an individual’s well-being are then placed on a continuum where professionals and community members alike assign varying degrees of “health” or “un-health.” Because of the pervasiveness and the growing awareness of mental health disorders, the language that used to be restricted to medical and mental health professionals is now widely used by the community at large. As such, we take the liberty to assign these levels of health and even diagnoses to individuals on our own.
Now, I love that we are talking about mental health awareness more on the whole as a society. But we need to be so careful about the language that we use. It is no surprise that our words are very powerful. They have the ability to completely strip a person of their dignity. Saying “that person has mental health” seems to indicate that having mental health is a bad thing. “Having mental health” and therefore “recognizing mental health” are extremely important. “Having mental health” is a good thing, it’s a normal thing; it is the way God designed us as beautiful, intricate children of the King. And in order to know what support we need, we must recognize the status of our mental health.
Professionals and political lobbyists have fought for years for the head to be recognized as part of the body and therefore important to consider in a person’s overall health. Because of the lack of connection between the head and the body in policy making circles, we have found ourselves in a time where it is hard for people to access mental health services as freely as they access physical health services.
THIS IS WHERE THE CHURCH COMES IN. As followers of Christ, we bear the responsibility to “care for those in need” (Acts 2:45). Our call is not only to use appropriate language as we talk about the incredibly intricate aspects of each of God’s children to whom we are a neighbor. But our call is also to seek to meet the needs of the individuals who each represent a part of the body of Christ, the church. “If one part suffers every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). This does not mean that everyone must be a professional therapist. But, I would argue that this does mean that we are to prioritize the mental health of our brothers and sisters.
In recognizing the we all HAVE mental health, I hope the church will rise to utilize people-centered, sensitive language to speak about mental health concerns. I also hope that the church will start to consider how to incorporate mental health services into their ministry strategies. I hope that the body of believers will start to employ mental health providers onsite for those that either do not have insurance to pay for therapy or are unable to find mental health providers that are fellow believers.
I have seen too often that people of faith do not seek mental health services because of the cost, the distance of services, the stigma, or the lack of therapists who will provide Christ-centered therapy. THIS IS WHERE THE CHURCH COMES IN. Each one of the covenant partners HAS mental health. It could be in a state of greatness, it could be in a state of desperation, or anywhere in between these two edges of the continuum. The presence of mental health in each individual is evident. It’s evident in the movement of the Spirit during worship with song. It’s evident in our conversations with each other. It’s evident in our ability to “show up” for each other. It’s evident in how respond to invitations to participate in the mission of the congregation.
HOW TO PRAY:
As you journey through this season of Lent, please pray for our neighbors who are suffering under the burden and pain of mental illness. Pray that even as your read this, these neighbors experience a glimpse of hope in a time of despair. And pray for the church. Pray that the body of believers will rise to the occasion and begin to find new, meaningful ways to support the mental health of all members of the body.
Isaiah 43:2 “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
Acts 2:42-47 “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”
1 Corinthians 12:26 “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
About the Author: Becky is privileged to live, work and worship in the City of Bellflower. She is the Director of Housing Programs at Kingdom Causes Bellflower and a Clinical Therapist at Little House, Inc. Becky leads a Depression and Anxiety Support Group at her place of worship, Rosewood Church.