Strong faith can play a powerful role in mental health. This is often particularly true for those living with serious mental illnesses; however, the daily challenges of these conditions often make it especially difficult to cultivate a vibrant spiritual life. Many of these same challenges can also prevent individuals from seeking support to help them build their faith as they pursue stability.
That’s why providing spiritual support can be especially meaningful and helpful to individuals struggling with mental health difficulties. In addition to the numerous ways churches can open their doors to those living with mental illnesses, there are several simple ways individuals and families can come alongside them to offer this kind of support.
- Pray with them and for them.
Prayer is one of the most powerful ways to support someone living with a serious mental illness. In addition to praying regularly and specifically for them and their families, offer to pray with them. Listen to their concerns and then, if they’re comfortable, pray with them about those things. As they see answers to these prayers, join them in thanking God and asking for his continued provision and strength.
- Emphasize their value.
Individuals living with serious mental health challenges are lovingly made in God’s image. Seeing them as people and treating them with dignity affirms their inherent worth and communicates to them and to others that they are deserving of respect and kindness. Faithful volunteer James Barclay shares how something as simple as making a brief personal connection can make a world of difference for someone struggling with mental illness. “When you call them by name, they light up. They can go day or months without that.”
- Recognize that their condition may impact their perspective.
Many serious mental illnesses can skew individuals’ understanding of spiritual matters. For example, they may believe that the devil is out to get them or that they’ve been given a special mission from God. When this happens, recognize such thinking may be a symptom of their illness, and don’t be put off by the way that their illness distorts their perspective. Instead, encourage them to remember truths about God and point them to Scripture that can help to move their thoughts in a biblical direction.
- Help them feel welcome at church.
Many people wrestling with serious mental health concerns struggle to find community and form relationships with others. While a local church can be an excellent place to build connections and receive support, those dealing with mental illnesses often feel uncomfortable or unwanted there. Welcome them by not only inviting them to church but also sitting with them and assuring them it’s OK to get up or go outside if they need to. By helping them feel comfortable, you could play a big role in connecting them with others who can also offer spiritual support.
- Be open to receiving.
Those living with serious mental health challenges are people first and should not be defined by their illnesses. Each has been given gifts by God and has something to offer others. It is important to be open to receive from them, and keep in mind that being able to use their gifts can powerfully affirm their worth and build their faith. Be ready to be blessed by them! Rather than approaching them as those who need your help, build genuine friendships where both can give and receive.
Rev. Dave Larlee shares how he’s been blessed by Well members as he’s served as a volunteer. “I get so much more from them than I’ll ever give,” he says. “The way they love without judging has helped me … more than I could ever thank them for.”
Underneath all of these actions is love. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), and those living with serious mental illnesses are our neighbors. When the Apostle Paul describes the many facets of love in 1 Corinthians 13, he states that love is patient and kind, that it keeps no record of wrongs and that it continually protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. This love, which never fails, is the foundation of spiritual support. By loving those who live with the challenges of serious mental illnesses, they can more fully experience the love and care of their Creator.
The Well Community is the only faith-based organization in the Dallas area exclusively serving those living with serious mental illnesses. Here, members find not only practical resources and friendship but vital spiritual support. Your gift will help us continue to come alongside them as they pursue stability, bolstered by thriving faith.