Tuesday, 01 July 2014 10:51

Where Do Christians Seek Help?

Written by  Nancy W. Thomas, M.A., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C., L.P.C.
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Our Church families have well established traditions for providing support.  What about support for mental health issues?


Through research across many denominations in the United States, Sidney Hankerson, MD, MBA and professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University, found that 27% of Church members or their family members have experienced mental health problems.  Astoundingly, this statistic does not include marriage and family problems.  If you add marriage and family difficulties, most of us are going to experience problems impacting mental health or family functioning.


A code of silence surrounds depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis, addiction or other mental illness within the Church.  Hankerson found these Church members felt invisible and disconnected from their congregations.   Frequently, even mature Christians suffer a crisis of faith during the abyss of depression or other mental health illness which can be misinterpreted as abandonment by God.



Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (NIV)



Psalm 25:16-17 Turn to me and be gracious to me,  for I am lonely and afflicted. 17Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. (NRSV)



Since the Middle Ages, Christian communities have ministered to those struggling with mental health problems in a supportive, holistic, accepting and nurturing manner.  European monastic groups and Churches were a place of refuge for the poor, orphans, widows, mentally ill and disabled.


St. Francis suffered a breakdown after wartime military service and imprisonment and was disowned and disinherited by his family. After a profound spiritual awakening, others joined him.  Ten of his first twelve converts were morally and psychologically wounded veterans who found solace and spiritual transformation sharing their narrative in a supportive Christian community.


Pope John Paul II said that depression is a spiritual trial.  “It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected: in a word, in which they can love and be loved….In his infinite love, God is always close to those who are suffering.  Depressive illness can be a way to discover other aspects of oneself and new forms of encounter with God.”  Further, he said, “Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being.”


During the 1600s, Quakers opposed the belief that those who lost their mind also lost their humanity and developed a “moral treatment” in humane, supportive and caring communities for the mentally ill.  During WWI, Mennonites ministered to returning servicemen with war related mental health problems instead of compulsory military service.  Parks, farms and camps were converted to hospitals providing compassionate physical, mental and spiritual care.


Bob Mills, Associate V. P. for University Advancement at Wake Forest University, calls mental illness “the disease that gets no chicken pie.”  He experienced a vast difference in the support he received being treated for leukemia than for bipolar disorder.  Falsely, many believe that mental health issues are a result of a lack of faith or sin.


In fact, none of us is immune from experiencing difficulty, mental or physical illness.  Charles Swindoll said, “Is the Lord going to use you in a great way?  Quite probably.  Is he going to prepare you as you expect?  Probably not.  And if you’re not careful, you will look at the trials, the tests, the sudden interruptions, the disappointments, the sadness, the lost jobs, the failed opportunities, the broken moments, and you will think, He’s through with me.  He’s finished with me, when in fact He is equipping you.” 


Statistics show that Christians seek help from their clergy before seeking assistance from health care professionals. The Gospels illustrate Christ caring for, ministering to and healing the mentally ill and we are called to do the same. 



John 13:34-35 Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV)



As Christians experience mental health and family issues, they prefer counseling and care that incorporates their mind, body and spirit, recognizing that they are not complete without each being addressed. In my clinical practice, I find faith is a critical resource for my clients’ recovery.


Pastors, priests and chaplains work tirelessly to provide for the needs of their communities but they cannot do it alone. As individual Christians and congregations, we can do more to help our fellow believers. 


Perhaps you are being called to participate in this ministry.  Pray about the role you and your Church may play. 



2 Corinthians 13:11Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in  peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (NIV)



Nancy W. Thomas, M.A., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C., L.P.C.

Nancy Thomas is the Executive Director of Clinical Services at The Samaritan Counseling Center, Inc. in Montgomery. She is a National Certified Counselor, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor. She graduated from the University of Alabama with an M.A. in Counselor Education in 1994. She has extensive training and experience in mental health and marriage and family therapy. Her professional interests are in mental health recovery, adolescent and college issues,  life transitions, healthy relationships, marital counseling, parenting, spirituality and identity development, and preserving marriages and families. Nancy works primarily with adolescents and adults.



Last modified on Wednesday, 09 July 2014 10:55
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