Yesterday’s New York Times had a front page story about Christian pastors finally talking about the serious problem of mental illness, helping members of their congregations who are struggling with it.
We know there has always been a stigma associated with mental illness, but the church has had trouble with this subject for unique reasons:
It is no easy task [to talk about mental illness], in large part because from pulpit to pew there is a silence and stigma among conservative Christians around psychiatric disorders, a relic of a time when mental illness was seen as demonic possession or a sign that the person had fallen in God’s eyes.
One of the biggest realizations for these pastors, then, is that God didn’t cause these complications — and that God alone won’t help solve them; secular therapy can go a long way in helping people deal with their illnesses:
Dr. [Matthew] Stanford, at Baylor, sees clients who have experienced austere religious interventions — for example, a woman with bipolar disorder whose pastor threw Bibles at her to drive away her demons. Now he trains counselors to give mental health seminars at churches and equip pastors to make appropriate referrals.
Dr. [Anthony] Rose, who has been candid about his own bouts of depression, said that “a key role for a pastor would be to change the mind-set of his church toward mental illness,” helping members to recognize it as “a normal struggle for many people.”
Just like marriage equality, this is one of those issues where the church is slowly but surely coming around to the right way of thinking. But you wonder how many people have suffered because of their intransigence. How much better would they be doing if they understood a long time ago that they didn’t bring this problem upon themselves, rather than thinking they were letting down God or were spiritually weak?
We should still root for more church leaders to embrace the reality of the situation. And while we’re at it, let’s hope they realize that their faith, once again, served as an obstruction to helping people.
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