“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)
As you may know, May is mental health awareness month, which explains our newsletter’s recent focus on mental health. Moreover, mental health has been in our minds as we realize how important this subject is for pastors, counselors, and others on the front lines. After all, a recent study conducted by Mental Health America underscores that 21 percent of adults in the United States are dealing with mental illness. That number roughly represents 50 million people. That’s staggering! They also highlight that 55 percent of adults with mental illness have not received any treatment, 5.44 percent are dealing with severe mental illness, and over 12.1 million adults have reported intense suicidal thoughts. These are sobering statistics.
I always thought my family was exempt from these issues, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we recently met this ubiquitous problem head-on. A few months ago, on a brisk winter’s morning, I received a life-altering telephone call informing me that a close family member had committed suicide, leaving behind a young family. In the wake of the devastation, we were left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of an impossible situation.
Mental health is related to a person’s state of mind and affects feelings, actions, relationships, and moods. It impacts daily life and relationships and can affect a person’s professional, social, and family life. And while some suggest that there are no scientific dimensions to pastoral care, mental health is a place where scientific advancements and pastoral care converge.
Understanding Mental Health
Most seminary-trained clergy are required to take courses dealing with psychology and counseling. However, in some traditions, these requirements are perfunctory at best. Therefore, a significant number of pastors are ill-prepared to deal with these issues unless they’ve had previous training or seek further training in this area.
Several factors affect mental health. Some of these factors include genetics, brain chemical imbalance, gestational exposures, physical trauma, abuse (i.e., physical or mental), and drug and alcohol dependency. Moreover, major life events such as income loss, divorce, cross-country relocations, and significant health issues can negatively affect a person’s mental well-being. Medical News Today further suggests that social circumstances, financial stressors, adverse childhood experiences, biological factors, and underlying medical conditions are risk factors that shape a person’s mental well-being.
- Dissociation and dissociative disorders – a mental process by which a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity (dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder, and dissociative identity disorder).
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – OCD is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and obsessions that lead to compulsive behaviors.
- Paranoia – the irrational and persistent feeling that people are out to get you. Paranoia may be a symptom of conditions including paranoid personality disorder, delusional (paranoid) disorder, and schizophrenia.
- Psychosis – a severe mental condition in which thoughts and emotions are affected, resulting in loss of contact with external reality. People affected by psychosis can experience delusions, hallucinations, and confused thinking.
- Schizophrenia – a complex psychotic disorder characterized by disruptions to thinking and emotions and a distorted perception of reality. Symptoms may include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and impaired thinking and memory.
As you can see, mental health problems are complex and far-reaching. And while we understand and uphold the truth behind the psalmist’s faith in a God who “is near to the brokenhearted” and who “saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), we need to go beyond prayer and harness the knowledge science has given us to support mental well-being.
- If you or someone you love is considering suicide, seek help by dialing 988, the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
- The CDC provides a list of things we can do to prevent suicide.
- Axios unpacks the problem of depression and loneliness in America.
- Drew highlights the role of faith during a mental health crisis.
- Here you some resources to help children cope with loss and grief.
- Check out our carefully curated resources on mental health, psychology, and neuroscience.
A Relational Approach to Mental Health
One of the lessons I learned while dealing with my family’s mental health crisis was that while big cities and significant suburban areas have adequate resources, smaller communities and those with larger minority populations have limited access to mental health professionals and resources. So, even with the cross-denominational and multi-disciplinary support of my SftC team, it was challenging to find adequate resources in a place where I had no professional or ministerial relationships. Likewise, most local churches and even congregations within my denomination had no available resources or expertise to deal with this type of family crisis.
Please, understand that I am not trying to put down our churches. I am just describing a ubiquitous dynamic that affects us all. After significant efforts, we finally found adequate care with the help of Drew’s wife, Katherine, and other specialized services provided by the family’s employer. Unfortunately, these resources were not local and required considerable travel time. These issues added a layer of tension and uncertainty to an already difficult circumstance. However, even when our congregations may not have mental health professionals in their pews, we can do some things. For example, we can develop relationships with organizations specializing in these services and have a list of resources to help those in need. We can also partner with organizations like Grief Share to host local support groups, especially in rural or smaller communities.
By now, you probably know that we use The Standard Model as our relational model to engage science and faith at all levels to promote spiritual growth, engagement, and well-being within the local congregation. This is one of the areas where your congregation and community can derive immediate benefits from engaging science. One of our team members, Dave Navarra, partners with a psychologist in his congregation for sermon advice — a prime example of how preaching, teaching, and ministry can benefit by engaging psychologists and other mental health professionals to inform how God’s Word can be used as a tool to improve mental health and well-being. If you are not familiar with our TSM, take a moment to check it out. Moreover, if you don’t know where to start, talk to us; we can help you and your congregation with the TSM.
Jesus declared: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Today, his words invite us to provide a safe place where those who are weary and heavy laden can find rest and well-being.
In Nobis Regnat Iesus,