How The Church Can Address Mental Illness

Mental illness can be difficult to recognize physically. It tends to lay hidden beneath the surface. Many people are ashamed to admit they struggle with a mental illness, and some may not even know they have one.

This can be particularly painful and poignant for people in a church where mental health issues are not readily addressed or prayed for in public worship—especially so when all one sees in the congregation are polished and beautiful people with their smiling faces and seemingly perfect lives. How easy it is to forget that there is a broken heart in every person and in every pew, and that “together-looking” people may just be putting on their Sunday best.

Common Brokenness

Most people believe that mental health issues are rare, but in fact, according to Mental Health America (MHA), they are quite common, with “over 54 million Americans suffering from some form of a mental disorder within a given year” and “more than 200 classified forms of mental illness.” Along with each of these forms comes a wide range of severity as well.

Whether it be mild depression, anxiety, phobia, mental breakdown, or even severe cases like manic/depression or schizophrenia, what can a church do? What encouragement can we find in Scripture and the church if we are living with a mental illness? Read more»

Matt Mullininx | “Five Ways To Respond To Mental Illness In The Church” | April 1, 2022


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      • One is not ordinarily put in a psychiatric facility for dementia/Alzheimers, right. Manic-depressive disorder etc belong to a different class of illnesses.

    • Dementia is classified differently from mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder. Dementia is considered nuerological which means it is addressed differently than mental illness.

    • Illnesses are classified as organic or functional. Organic illnesses are those for which there is an identifiable underlying cause or measurable biomarker. Functional illnesses for which the underlying cause is not known or cannot be biologically measured. In our age, “mental illness ” most often refers to the functional diseases such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders for which there is no known underlying biological damage or mechanism. Of course, organic illness or damage to the brain can cause the same family of symptoms. Dementia has measurable biomarkers in the anatomy of the brain, so it is considered an organic illness. Many illnesses can be either. For example there are physical diseases that can cause symptoms of mental illness such as thyroid conditions, vitamin deficiencies, and certain cancers. As research continues it may be found that many illnesses though to be functional are actually organic, having their cause in underlying genetic, physiologic, or biologic disorders. The current professions of mental health generally treat organic illnesses such as depression and anxiety for which there is currently not a known underlying cause. Ideally, a medical doctor would first rule out a physical cause before referring for mental health care.

  1. What is the Church’s position on whether there might be demon influence/possession masquerading as mental illness in some cases in the modern era?

    • Bob,

      The churches’ positions are in the Standards and the Three Forms. I don’t know that any denomination or federation has taken an official, binding position on this.

  2. I recommend Edward T. Welches work “Blame it on the Brain.”
    “Have you ever been surprised at how some people have accused their brain, making it responsible for some of their bad behavior? As human problems seem to get both deeper and more widespread, people are desperate for solutions–and the quicker the better! …”

  3. Some of the opinions expressed in these comments (As well as a myriad of others not expressed), are exactly why Christians who suffer from chronic mental health issues hide it, especially in the Church. Sufferers of other chronic illnesses don’t have their spiritual lives called into question or judged as the cause of their maladies, but when it comes to mental health issues, the friends of Job abound. It’s very sad that the people of God who should be the most understanding and supportive can do the most harm.

    • Demon possession/influence and the book recommendation quote above. (I looked it up).
      I appreciate Mike R.’s comment about the correlation between bodily illness and mental illness.

      In certain Christian circles, it is assumed that psychological issues are directly the result of sin/unbelief/unspirituality, and if one repents, the psychological issue will improve or disappear. While this may be helpful in adressing certain situations, harm comes when this approach is broadly applied to those with chronic mental illness, in which there is a bodily component that causes or greatly contributes to it. It can’t be prayed away or repented away any more than kidney disease or epilepsy can.

  4. I do have some experience dealing with mental illness. “It’s complicated.”

    Random observations:

    Physical state certainly does play a part. Just for starters UTI or low blood sodium can cause this kind of problem. I’m not looking for demons, but I’m not going to discount that possibility either.

    The medical system as we have it now doesn’t deal with it well.

    Don’t forget that mental illness affects the people around the afflicted individual.

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