Aiding Saints in Mental Health

In January of 2016, a friend of mine was given a curriculum for church membership that was from the early 1980’s in order to bring it up to date for an upcoming two-day program in his local church.

Somewhere in these documents, there was a statement that the problem with the mentally ill in the church is that they need to be reading their Bibles more. To which my friend responded to his pastor about me, and that I’m always reading mine, yet I struggled frequently with depression, among other mental health ailments.

So this got me into thinking further that there are more serious errors of thought in the Christian church today when it comes to mental health than I had previously assumed. I would like to, at least in part, clarify for people of faith that may be reading this, the fact from the fiction. And what the people in the pews with them can do to help and support their fellow believers who are suffering.

For this brief moment of thought, I’d like to talk about the idea of prayer and mentally ill Christians.

Pray with

While it may seem like the most logical thing in a church prayer meeting to do is to mention the fellow believer who hasn’t been at church in a while due to their mental illness, and that’s great, I’m glad that you do. But I know that from personal experience, it says so much more if you’re not only praying for the fellow Christian, but actually picking up the phone or visiting the person to pray with them.

Did you get the difference there?: Praying WITH them, not just FOR them.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

James 5:16 (NASB)

Now granted, there might be some circumstances that prevent visiting a shut in. From my own life I can say anxiety would be one of many factors for a person not wanting you to stop by. However, this doesn’t prevent you from calling the person on the phone to not only pray with them, but to genuinely ask how they are doing and honestly mean it enough to listen without trying to “solve” their problems.

Listen

I would also like to emphasize that if you visit or call, please do NOT try to get the person to set a return date for coming back to the local meeting. In doing this, you could be showing them that you are not truly listening to them in regards to their present situation.

Again, from experience, it’s hard enough to get out of bed and stay home all day, so the person you are speaking to likely can’t even comprehend the next Sunday morning, let alone the next couple of hours.

Please don’t push for a return, it’s not the encouragement that you might think that it is and may very well discourage them from ever coming back. I have struggled with this countless times, and while I know that many of the saints mean well, sometimes it’s just frustrating.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend

Proverbs 27:6a (NASB)

The key

Overall, just be prepared to listen. When the Christian has finished talking, then you will also know what to pray more specifically about with them, and if you have more details and you paid attention to them, then this will mean more to them than you’ll ever know.

When I broke a three year long silence on what the root of what was causing my depression, self-hate, and suicidal feelings with a trusted brother from my assembly, he wasn’t expecting that these issues had been rooted since I was ten years old. To his credit, he was silent until I was finished releasing so much pain that nobody had ever known that I was experiencing.

Some could say that this was my own fault, but to be fair, you can’t explain nearly three decades worth of mental and emotional pain in a ten minute conversation, and just being asked “How are you doing?” on Sunday just isn’t enough time.

There’s times you must be prepared to hear things that you could never prepare to ever hear from anyone who trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. I’m not advocating a license to sin; what I’m saying is that not everyone in your local church grew up in the so-called “Christian Home” that many others did.

I was saved after I turned 31 at a crucial point in my life where there was no meaning left. It has taken nearly nine years, but I have only begun to accept and understand that I am loved, and I actually can be loved by not just God, but by others as well.

Simple quotes from Scripture are not always the surefire antidote for a suffering saint, especially when the ill believer already knows it. Living out what you are telling them does wonders for the soul.

So if you happen to know one in your gathering that does suffer through depression or any other mental health related ailment, why not approach them next Sunday and ask how you can pray for them, and then do so, right then and there? It could very well shape the next six days of that person’s life.

Be kind. Be patient. Love them as Christ would.

Photo by Ian Espinosa

Pat Van Horne

    5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Good article. The topic needs attention.

    I remember asking two assemblies and six other churches to help a believer who had emotional struggles. None of them were willing to help because the person had emotional/ psychological struggles. Because no one else would help, I helped. Then those same people who refused to help began making very damaging accusations as to why I was helping. Yet no one offered the essential help the believer needed to make it thru each day. Always their reason was because of the person’s instability. Doesn’t the scripture say we are to help the weak and faint.

    Your suggestions are very helpful. Pray with them. Read with them. Listen to them. Display care for them. Be the lovingkindness of God on visual display.

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  2. Avatar

    Having been involved with a number of mentally ill in our assembly, I concur with what has been written. One of the biggest needs is non-judgmental fellowship. As individuals are alone, they tend to further isolate themselves, expanding their sense of lack of value or worth. Just being with them acts against this. Another is simple accountability as self-accountability is very difficult. One brother needs a phone call just to get himself out of bed.
    As we have a number in our assembly struggling, I searched for materials to help disciple them. I found none, rather what I came across was teaching for the church to stop judging them. While this is needed, they are still brothers and sisters that need to be shepherded in their growth in the Lord. They can grow in their faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus and should not be just relegated to the sidelines. They are still Jesus sheep.

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  3. Avatar

    Thank you for this article. There is a big gap in understanding mental illness between those who experience/live it and those only hear/read about it. Your advice of listening, of praying, rather than “fixing” or “combatting” is very appropriate and very good. Thank you.

    Reply

  4. Avatar

    Well written Pat. You speak with wisdom based n your own experiences. You speak with grace and as a challenge to all of us to slow down and listen, really listen with love. Thanks, Tim

    Reply

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