This came out of a conversation on another blog, and I thought it might make a good post. I’m only writing from my perspective and experience. So, not everyone suffering from mental illness will agree with me. If you don’t please comment and let me know where I got it wrong.
How to minister more effectively? Big question! I think first, we need to seek to make ourselves and our churches welcoming for those that are mentally ill, or otherwise suffering. Church should be a place where people can share their struggles in these areas without fear of prejudice or judgment, but so often it isn’t. We are all so busy pretending to have it all together out of fear of what others will think that we never realize that everyone is struggling with something! We can only minister to the ill and struggling if we know of their condition!
Further, if we really have a desire to minister to those with specific illness, we should research that illness. We should learn about how it works, its symptoms, its treatment, the side effects of treatment, etc. the only way to truly understand of course is to go through it yourself, but I think people would be surprised by how much they can learn from research and how it could equip them as they try to understand. Then just ask the person how they are impacted by their illness. What it feels like, how it impacts their life, etc. I know for me, I’ve always appreciated people that really sought to understand, that really tried to get it.
I also think that a lot of times, the one that seeks to minister is really going to have to seek in order to minister. A lot of us are the sheep that have wandered off. I know for me, when I am feeling the worst, my desire for isolation is highest. For all of my friends it should be a big sign that I’m not well when I fall off the radar. Even when I logically know I shouldn’t, I withdraw, and find myself unable to really think rationally enough to resist withdrawing. So, I need people who will call me, and not wait for me to call them. It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how abandoned I’ve felt in my illness. On more than one occasion I didn’t hear from my closest friends or anyone at my church for months. I even sent out a panicked email to a few friends once about falling into depression again and asking for prayer, only to receive no response.
And just listening is HUGE. I know that people are sometimes afraid to reach out because they worry about saying the wrong thing. Well, sometimes, you don’t need to say anything–just listen and be physically there. Even if you say the wrong thing, if you do it from a place of humility, love and a genuine care, most of the time that is what will come across to the person and it will mitigate anything “wrong” you might have said.
If you mean how PP could help…maybe some posts and/or links about Christianity and mental illness and how mental illness is real and it’s often a physical problem and not a spiritual one (if they are out there?). I know this territory is woefully uncharted in the realm of Christianity. Perhaps prayer that more writing and teaching would occur in this area. I guess that’s another way the local church could help: sermons that touch on the reality of mental illness and that while depression, etc. might sometimes be a spiritual problem, it’s often a physical one, and it’s not something to be ashamed of.
I hope this might help someone.