Brad Zehring – Guest Blogger, Gilbert Campus
How many times have you been sitting in church and felt that a pastor was talking about you? It may have been encouraging. It may have been convicting. It may have caused a mix of emotions, but one thing is certain – you felt connected that day. You mattered. You were understood. So, what happens when up to 25% of a church congregation doesn’t feel that way about their struggles? It has been estimated that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from depression. Obviously, there are other mental illnesses that affect Americans to varying percentages. A safe assumption would be that mental illness has touched most of us one way or another. Why don’t we talk about it in church? That’s what I want to talk about here.
In a recent study that was funded by Focus on the Family and published in Christianity Today their findings reported 67% of pastors never talk about mental illness from the stage, in any form. Interestingly, this was different from how members of church congregations felt. They spoke with two groups of people: those with mental illness and family members who love those with mental illness. They found that these groups wanted to hear mental illness discussed in church at a reported 59% and 65%, respectively. So, why is there a disconnect between the two statistics?
I have known Jesus my whole life on one level or another. I have been in church since I was a baby. I know how we do church. More recently, I graduated medical school and have continued my education as a Psychiatry resident. I have been blessed to have a unique experience in learning the biology and psychology of mental illness through my ‘Jesus-loving’ lens. I continue to learn the neurobiology and how the physical body is intertwined with the mind and soul. It has been through continued education in science and Jesus that I have really developed a better understanding of mental illness.
Not only am I a physician specializing in Psychiatry; I am married to someone who has struggled with depression and an eating disorder at various points in her life. I have seen the destruction and have felt the despair. I have witnessed a woman that believes in Jesus Christ and all the power that comes with Him still struggle horribly at times. I have seen her character. I know she is not lazy. I have seen her cry out and plead to Jesus for relief. In her case, I know her choices are not causing her tortuous path. By not talking about mental illness – what message does the church send?
Too many times I hear from patients, family members of patients, friends, or acquaintances that they left the church due to not feeling that they were understood. Feeling that they didn’t matter. Others report being looked down upon for having to take medication or go to therapy. I know many times this is not intentional and stems from various myths, a lack of understanding, or personal experiences. But I believe the church wants to do better. It is about creating the conversation. So, what does this mean for the church generally, and Central more specifically? We need to see and hear how other brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting. How they are struggling.
By not talking about depression, anxiety, suicide, PTSD, or any topic on mental illness we are not reaching or connecting a considerable population of the body of Christ. We are not in tune with the arm or the leg – we are disconnected. My passion for wanting the church to understand mental illness and to speak about it in an informed and educated way stems from understanding the power of the church; more specifically, the power of the people who make up the church.
It is time to talk about mental illness in the church. This can take various forms, but the theme should be that real stories are told and the congregation has a chance to see and hear how Jesus is present even in the messiness. Jesus is still who He says he is when the darkness becomes too great and the light has faded. Jesus is still who He is when the outcome is tragic. God’s plan doesn’t promise happiness, but it doesn’t take away from His plan. It is still perfect. As the body of Christ we need to hear about mental illness.
Are you in?