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We are much better at accepting broken bones than we are at accepting mental illness. We rarely think twice about someone’s fractured leg or the cast on their arm. We often don’t know how to engage with someone who is struggling with depression or bipolar disorder. Despite the present shifts toward inclusivity, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues.

Congregations and pastoral leaders can play a big role in removing this stigma. For starters, how do we talk about mental health in our sermons? Do we speak with compassion about the fact that there are people who struggle to get through the day, or do we use language like “crazy” that we know will elicit an easy laugh?

We may wish that everyone who belonged to our congregations was psychologically balanced and highly emotionally intelligent, but let’s not forget that Jesus said he did not come for those who are well but for those who need a physician. Our congregations comprise people from all walks of life. Some of those people have wounds we cannot see on the surface.

Ministry at its best addresses the needs of the whole person — body, mind and soul. It’s time for the church to be more invested in holistic health and to think about how it can meaningfully engage and better inform the congregation on issues related to psychological well-being. Every church has someone (or is connected to someone) who is dealing with mental health issues on some level. When congregations are willing to address the topic of mental health, they will discover new opportunities to offer healing and hope where it is needed.

Resources

Churches play a crucial role in providing mental health support and advocating for better policy

An AME elder who is also president of the American Psychological Association talks about the ways churches can make mental health an integral part of ministry.

Q&A with Thema Bryant

How an initiative to support rural pastors is saving farmers’ lives

What happens when pastors are challenged to “think like farmers”?

By Russell Lackey and Trisha Wheelock

Helping Christians with mental health issues starts with better language

Those with severe mental health issues are often misunderstood by people of faith, but churches have a responsibility to listen to and see each person as a person, says a professor and author.

Q&A with John Swinton

‘Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith’

The author and theologian talks about her book, “Bipolar Faith,” and what it means to live with mental illness while growing, moving and standing in faith.

Q&A with Monica A. Coleman

Struggling out of the valley of shadows

After helping a woman step back from the brink of suicide, a pastor realizes that it was his own journey in grief that had prepared him to offer her the path to redemption.

By Edgar Moore


Before you go…

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness. About one-quarter of these individuals will turn to a clergy person for support or resources. Thus, despite the general decline in trust in institutions in the U.S., ministers still play an important role in advocating for people who have mental health needs. In some traditions, pastors will need to help congregants discern the intersection between charismatic spirituality and mental well-being.

It is imperative for leaders to understand the responsibility they have for helping people who are suffering, often needlessly. Jesus came to minister to those who suffer, and now we must do the same.

As always, you can email me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


‘Reclaiming Rural’ audiobook now available

As rural America continues to undergo massive economic and demographic shifts, rural churches are uniquely positioned to provide community leadership. Leading a rural congregation requires a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing these communities, as well as a strong theological and community-focused identity. Allen T. Stanton describes how in establishing this identity, rural leaders build a meaningful and vital ministry.

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