Dear Pastors: Be Careful How You Talk About Mental Illness
Please be aware.
Be aware of the things you say. When you talk in general terms about depression or anxiety, even when you mean the general emotions, you need to be aware.
Know there are people in your audience who hear you talk about these things. They hear that their diagnosable, clinical anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder or a million other things they actually cannot control is their fault.
They hear you say our anxiety stems from a lack of faith, or that our depression comes from not finding enough joy. What they hear is this:
You are a failure. You are not good enough. This is your fault.
And the thing is, when you’re fighting every day to get out of bed and interact with people and to just. keep. going. some part of you gets really good at latching onto those thoughts and repeating them.
Yes, you are a failure. No, you’re not good enough. Yes, it’s your fault.
And listen, I know that’s not what you’re trying to say.
But that’s why I’m not asking you to stop hating people with mental health struggles, because I don’t believe you do. I’m asking you to be aware of the people around you.
This isn’t a matter of being politically correct so you don’t offend people. It’s a matter of people getting stuck in their head for days and weeks at a time. It’s a matter of people believing they’re not good enough for God because they can’t muster up some nonstop sense of joy.
It is, more often than you think, a matter of life and death.
So be aware of the things you say, and also be aware of your limitations.
In a conversation I was having with Mike Foster awhile back about helping those with depression, he said “We heal in community, which means different roles/expertise. Professional help is key.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us we’re one body, made up of different parts. That means it’s OK to not have all the answers.
I know people come to you for help when they’re hurting in most aspects, and I’m glad. But please be aware of the place where your ability to help someone must give way to your genuine desire for them to get the help they need.
You aren’t trained to counsel people through major mental health crises alone, just like you aren’t trained to give someone surgery. By all means: love them, encourage them, please, please listen to them about the ways they’re hurting. But there comes a time when your help isn’t enough. That’s not a shot at your abilities to help people, it’s an opportunity for you to show them Jesus even more. Your willingness to sacrifice your pride, to admit there are things beyond your competency, for the sake of the people you’re leading. That’s love. It’s your responsibility to help steer them towards the professional help they need and deserve.
I really, honestly believe if the people leading our churches and ministries can be more aware in these areas, the church as a whole can become a much safer feeling place for those wrestling with mental health.
And that’s what we’re all after, right? Safe spaces and communities we can give love and receive love and grow and heal and be whole.
Places we can call home.
Follow this journey on Robert Vore’s site.
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