Mental illnesses cause isolation and loneliness. They set people apart and often exclude them from the richness of community. At The Well we provide a place to belong … a place where those who struggle with challenges like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression can feel accepted and welcomed. But, The Well is not the only safe place where people with mental health difficulties can participate. What about your church? How can members of your congregation widen their hearts and swing open the sanctuary doors to welcome those who are outcasts to others?
Here are five tips* to learn how:
- Make your church a safe place for those who suffer. To do that, a church body needs to be transparent about brokenness and acknowledge that all of us struggle with weak areas in our lives.
- Equip your church with the tools it needs to serve those with mental illnesses and their families. Develop or identify your congregation’s theology of suffering. Train clergy and staff. Offer support groups. Create alliances with local mental health professionals.
- Treat hurting people like people. Be a friend. Include them in gatherings. Invite them when groups are going to lunch. As needed, refer them on to professional help, but don’t pass them on. At the same time, set healthy boundaries in your relationships. Don’t expect them to be able to do that.
- Address the stigma of mental illness by talking about it openly. Include general prayers for those living with mental illness in congregational prayer. Highlight and financially support local ministries that serve the homeless, the incarcerated and indigent people with mental illnesses.
- Treat those with mental illnesses and their families as you would any who have chronic pain in their lives or are lifelong caregivers. Pray for and with them. Give them space to talk about what is going on in their lives. Attend to practical needs such as transportation to medical appointments and assist, when appropriate, with extraordinary expenses.
Check out our resources page to find more materials to help your church become a place of hope and healing for those others have cast aside.
Your church can make a huge difference in the lives of members at The Well by providing volunteers and/or funds! Contact us to learn more.
* © 2016 Carol Dowsett. Used with Permission.