What Can Churches Do to Help with Mental Health Conditions?
ADHD and autism, depression and anxiety, mood disorders and other common mental health conditions are all part of people’s lives this side of the fall.
Yet the very place that should offer healing and hope is often the least equipped to help. Further, it is the place least likely to be actively attended by people suffering with such conditions.
That place is the church.
Stephen Grcevich explains this in his new book, Mental Health and the Church:
The families I meet through my work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist are far less likely than other families in our community to be actively involved in a local church. This reality is a tragic departure from Jesus’ plan for his church. (16)
Thankfully, he wrote a ministry handbook to help leaders include children and adults who suffer with mental illness in the life of the church.
But how? How can churches help with mental health conditions? Grcevich outlines seven strategies of inclusion in his book, centered around the acronym TEACHER.
T: Assemble your TEAM.
Step one is putting together a dream team. Grcevich lists several possible ministries from which to recruit a representative:
- student and family
- small group
- communications and welcoming
He also recommends including members with valuable professional training or life experiences, including: mental health advocates, occupational therapists, interior designers, social workers, and spiritually wise laypeople.
E: Create welcoming ENVIRONMENTS
There are 50 million people in the US who experience mental disorder. How will they experience your church?
I suspect most church leaders have never considered how children and adults with common mental illnesses experience differently the physical spaces where ministry takes place than other attendees do. (97)
Creating spaces that promote the purposes of ministry should be an important consideration. The principle here is form must follow function.
From seating and signage to decorations and architecture, creating welcoming spaces that promote the purposes of ministry should be an important consideration.
A: Focus on ACTIVITIES essential for spiritual growth
Grcevich encourages you to focus on one or two ministry activities you’ve found most effective in advancing spiritual growth. He offers several examples, but here are two that stood out:
- “offer to host a special worship and prayer service for families impacted by mental illness in your community, and assign your church’s most effective and engaging preacher the task of providing a relevant message during the service” (102).
- “provide qualified child care to support biological, adoptive, and foster parents in attending small groups” (103).
C: COMMUNICATE effectively
How do you talk about mental illness in your church?
“A key step for any church seeking to include those affected by mental illness is to establish a culture that explicitly grants permission for mental health to be a topic of conversation” (103).
Grcevich offers several dos and donts, including not questioning treatment legitimacy and spiritualizing mental illness. He also explains how your online assets are powerful communication tools for ministry inclusion.
“The words and teaching that emanate from the pulpit and are propagated through a church’s online platforms can either perpetuate or eradicate stigma” (103).
H: HELP families with needs
Offering activities and communicating well is a good start, but it must translate into meeting the practical needs of families impacted by mental illness. Consider a few examples:
- Do your pastors ever visit psychiatric hospitals?
- Would people with no other way of addressing short-term mental health needs have access your benevolent funds?
- Can you offer affordable mental health care through your church, or provide financial assistance for counseling services?
“Ponder ways that your church’s existing ministries whose purpose is to provide care and support can serve persons with mental illness” (109).
E: Offer EDUCATION and support
Establishing groups to help support the unique needs of individuals and families and offer education is another important starting place.
First, it sends “a powerful message to church members and the surrounding community that persons affected by mental illness and their families will be warmly welcomed” (111).
Second, it can be “a practical and inexpensive strategy for meeting the heartfelt needs of marginalized people in the community your church serves” (111).
Grcevich offers several models of mental health education and support groups for guidance.
R: Empower people to assume RESPONSIBILITY
One final principle for mental health inclusion:
The people who attend your church are your greatest assets in reaching and building relationships with persons in your community affected by mental illness….Empowering your people to become the hands and feet of Jesus is a key to expanding your impact. (113)
Some of this empowerment will come through the ministry representatives on your inclusion team. Yet most meaningful ministry at all levels “typically occurs through the spontaneous action of individual Christians who recognize and respond to needs right where God has placed them” (114).
Through detailed chapters on each of these seven strategies filled with actionable advice, this manual will help you deliberately include people with mental health conditions in the life of Christ’s church.
These strategies “are sufficiently comprehensive to guide mental health inclusion efforts in large churches with multiple campuses, yet flexible enough to be useful for churches of all sizes…taken together, the strategies represent a paradigm to guide your church team in implementing an inclusion plan across each of your ministries.”