"Awakening the Church to Mental Health"
“Why don’t you just think about happy things?”
Steve Treichler was a small child who couldn’t understand his dad’s depression. Even in his young age, he could see the sadness in his dad’s eyes. The unsteadiness in his voice. The struggle he seemed to carry like a weight on his back.
Something was wrong with his dad. Steve knew that. But he wasn’t able to grasp why.
It wasn’t until a decade or so later that Steve would finally understand. It was at this point in his own life that Steve Treichler would enter an 18 month battle with depression.
Today, Steve Treichler is pastor at Hope Community Church in Minneapolis, and it was with this story that he opened up Transform Minnesota’s “Awakening the Church to Mental Health”.
Though Pastor Steve doesn’t consider himself an expert on mental health, his personal experiences have helped him understand the importance of talking about it in the church. That’s why he was more than happy to host this event last Thursday.
The Christian world doesn’t have the best history when it comes to dealing with mental health, but the packed-out sanctuary showed that the situation is positively progressing. Over the course of the night, four speakers provided key insight into the world of mental health from vastly different perspectives.
We heard from a Christian psychologist, a school counselor, a mom whose son has suffered from mental illnesses since he was 8, and a church staff member who had struggled with depression and anxiety.
Here are some of the key points I took away from the event.
Dealing with Mental Health in the Church
Christians struggle with mental illness as much as anyone else does. Currently in America, 1 in 5 people are dealing with a mental illness. 18% of adults deal with anxiety. 10% of adults deal with depression. Often, with mental illness, people have comorbidity, meaning they deal with multiple conditions.
This can be a lot for any person or group to handle, especially Christians.
After all, we try to hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard. And we have a tendency to be more confrontational when it comes to addressing problems in the lives of our community. This is usually done with good intentions, but it can make things worse, especially when it comes to mental illness.
One of the speakers, Sarah Gross, is a counselor and social worker who has seen church’s burn themselves out trying to address, fix, and adapt to the mental conditions of individual members.
Meanwhile, the person they’re trying to help ends up feeling inadequate, unwanted, and shameful. Especially when their mental issues are assumed to be spiritual issues.
When Sarah was younger, her mom dealt with seizures, which she described as terrifying. From the outside, they looked like demonic manifestations, and were often treated as such.
But they weren’t, and Sarah’s mom didn’t need an exorcism. She needed professional help. Once she got that, her condition radically improved and she was able to live a normal life.
That’s not to say Christians should stand back and do nothing when a fellow believer is going through something. Rather, they should love that person with the love of Jesus. They need to see and treat that person like they’re made in the image of God.
Because they are.
Sarah has found that one of the best ways for a church member to intervene in someone’s life is by modeling a healthy lifestyle. This means staying resting, exercising, taking care of their body, maintaining healthy relationships, and pursuing God’s calling on their life.
This, along with showing love, can have a dramatic impact on anyone’s life, whether they’re dealing with mental illness or not.
If you know someone who’s struggling with mental health, here are some great dos and don’ts that Sarah shared.
- Stigmatize, judge, or condemn.
- Assume there’s a sin or faith problem.
- Focus on the demonic
- Misuse scripture/use Christian clichés
- Allow those with mental illness to drain/burn out your church
- Try to treat severe mental illness
- See God’s image, invite into the community and meaningful service
- Normalize, accept, validate
- Use scripture to encourage, build up, provide hope. Sometimes, say nothing.
- Set limits, insist on treatment and wellness
- Have a list of resourced/referrals at the ready
- Be part of the care team
- Seek to understand and individualize care
- Model mental wellness.
And For Those Dealing with Mental Illness
It is important to seek help. Sarah noted that mental illness is not an excuse for bad behavior. If you’re dealing with issues that you can’t seem to overcome and that those around you are struggling to understand, consider professional help.
A counselor or psychologist can not only help identify the issue, but they’ll work with you to develop a way past them.
If you’re looking for a Christian counselor in your area, try Torrch. Torrch is a free service that connects Christians in need with professionals who can help. Join today.