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3 Things the Church Can Do for People With Mental Illness

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It’s no secret at this point I suffer from bipolar disorder and anxiety. The reason I’m so open about it is because that’s the only way we’re ever going to break the stigma of mental illness (and trust me, there’s still a stigma). But having a mental illness is only a part of who I am.

I also love the church. I love the idea of a universal group of people coming together in mutual love of God, Jesus and other people. The church should be a safe place, where every broken person is welcomed and healing can begin. But I’ve heard a lot of stories of the church hurting people with mental illness. In reaction to these stories, not all of which are my own experience, here’s a list of things the church can do to help those who live with a mental illness.

1. Talk about it.

In my experience, the church has a terrible habit of not talking about things. Mental illness is no exception. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was one of the only people I knew who suffered from bipolar disorder. This silence creates a culture of shame and fear around mental illness. It makes people feel like they are alone, and that they have no one to talk to.

However, when I started getting honest about my struggles, other people were honest with me. Believe me, there are more people than you would think, within the church, who have a mental illness. And it would make them feel much safer if they knew that the church was a safe place to talk about it.

This doesn’t just mean people with mental illnesses need to talk about them. It’s everyone’s responsibility to begin healthy conversations about it. Maybe this means hosting a workshop to teach people Mental Health First Aid. Maybe this means the pastor preaches about mental illness. Maybe this means collectively learning more about mental illnesses and debunking myths. Whatever it looks like, it is so important that the church begins a conversation on mental illness.

2. Ask people how you can help.

So someone at your church opens up about having a mental illness. What next? Ask them how you can help. And accept if they don’t have an answer right away. Let them know they can come to you in a time of need and that you’ll be there for them. Don’t push a person’s illness to the side and pretend like it doesn’t exist. A mental illness can be a huge part of someone’s life.

3. Challenge the stigma.

This one is a little harder, but still necessary. The church, as a group of people, needs to directly challenge the stigma they see and hear. Whether that’s speaking out against a friend’s distasteful joke, taking to social media to challenge the media’s portrayal of mental illness, or researching these illnesses to have a better idea of what it’s really like to live with them, it’s the church’s job to stand up for those who are hurting.

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Originally published: March 18, 2016
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