Mental illness is a taboo topic in many circles, including the church. Here are five reasons we need to talk about mental illness in the church and why.
Several weeks ago I admitted to my friends and family that I have been struggling with depression for a good part of the last year.
It was terrifying to admit as every worst-case scenario of their reactions played through my head. In general, the response was supportive and encouraging — except one comment that was made by a loved one that has had me thinking a lot about the stigma of depression in the Church.
His comment was, “I don’t think you should tell people about this or make it publicly known you are struggling with depression. You will lose opportunities, especially within Church and your ministry.” Now to be fair, this person said this out of genuine love and concern for me and my family, but it really got me thinking about how dangerous we’ve made this culture of silence within the Church for someone struggling with depression or any other mental illness.
The truth is, we as a society, in general, have normalized not talking about a great many things out of supposed protection of ourselves–yet in many cases, we have done more damage than good with our prim and proper view of speaking of such things.
Why We Need to Talk About Mental Illness in Church
We have to face the fact that mental illness, especially depression, is an epidemic in our country.
It is very much in the Church. There are many reasons why this is the case, but a huge contributing factor is the taboo nature of speaking about it at all publicly, especially in the realm of ministry.
Although several celebrities with large platforms have spoken out about their own journey with depression, we still have yet to hear from many “Superstar Christian Leaders” about the topic of mental illness in general. As a believer, leader in ministry, and disciple of Jesus with depression, I find this disturbing.
So I put my money where my mouth is. I am talking openly about depression and what it looks like. I am talking about how it affects my walk with Jesus and why this is good and healthy to talk about it within the Church. To talk about mental health within the walls of the church is helpful.
Here are five reasons why talking about mental illness, especially depression, is healthy and important in the Church.
1. We do not have to fear mental illness.
Mental illness, like depression, is often misunderstood and categorized by its stigma. As believers, we often say we have nothing to fear in Christ.
Let’s use this to the fullest extent–we need not fear mental illness. We are equipped to love and serve those who suffer.
2. Admitting mental illness does not mean we are less holy.
We are holy never because of our actions or beliefs. We are holy because of Christ–His actions make us holy. His work makes us equipped for ministry, not our own. If mental illness is part of your life in any way this does not make you less capable of serving, loving, or even leading others.
3. The Church should be a sanctuary for those afflicted with mental illness.
Mental illness is not relegated to one social class, race, sex, political or religious leaning, or economic status. Depression is not discriminatory. As the Church we are called to be a sanctuary for those afflicted–this definitely includes fellow believers! We should be a safe place for all to come and find rest.
4. We are called to transparency and authenticity, not ignoring and hiding.
Transparency and authenticity are hot buzz words in the Church these days, but oftentimes when believers within the Church are genuine in sharing their sufferings, they find themselves alone and hurt by the very advocates of authenticity. This is especially true of those who admit mental illness. The best encouragement for others to live transparently is for leaders to live transparently.
5. We are not defined by mental illness — we are defined by Christ.
Admitting mental illness in the Church does not define who we are. Christ defines who we are. When we talk about mental illness, it is an opportunity to bring others into the fold of the conversation and share with them the fullness and truer reality of Christ, rather than the shadow mental illness casts on its sufferers.
As the Church, it is imperative that we begin having this discussion much more openly and honestly than we ever have. We should never create an environment that shames or inhibits another from healing and wholeness.
Mental illness is real and it lies to its victims. Let’s be light in the darkness for those suffering.
I stand with you and I am cheering you on. We can do this together.
Brianna George is a Speaker, Teacher, and Missionary currently living in Middle Tennessee with her husband of twelve years, two spicy little boys, and rescue dog, Bosa the Boxer. She has been published and featured in the nationally syndicated Huffington Post and is also a voice for depression sufferers over at The Mighty. You can find more of her writing on collaborative blogs, such as The Glorious Table, as well as her personal blog, Unveiled and Revealed.