By Rev. Patirck Rogers, MDiv.
“How do you feel about that?” If this question sounds familiar to you, you may, also like me, have been to a therapist or counselor before.
Churches historically and often are used to telling people how they are and aren’t supposed to feel. Be strong! Be confident! Be courageous! Don’t feel angry! Don’t feel afraid! Don’t feel envious! The list goes on and on, but what about when we have an anxiety attack? What about depression caused by life circumstances and/or genetics? What about feelings caused from being bi-polar. What about mental illness?
We don’t often hear in church liturgy or sermons about mental illness. A majority of Americans aren’t even aware that the month of May is known as “Mental Health Awareness Month.” Nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness, yet nearly two thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek treatment.
There is a long list of topics that churches are beginning to discuss ranging from HIV/AIDS to cancer, but historically the church has been silent regarding mental wellbeing. You may ask why a columnist on spirituality would even be writing an article regarding mental health. It is time for the topic of mental health to come out of the closet.
The historical church is responsible for significantly contributing to the stigma associated with mental health. Some denominations even still today teach that our mental wellbeing is linked to our faith in God. Mental health status long ago became part of bad theology ranging from being possessed by demons, punishment from God, or even paying for the sins of our relatives.
This bad theology surrounding our mental health affects even our healthcare insurance. Physical conditions are covered by our policies, but mental health still has a long way to go. When will we realize that our mental health is part of our physical health and vice versa? There should not be a differentiation between our physical and mental health.
Stigma reduction (and elimination) regarding mental illness must start where the stigma began, which is in our churches! Stigma regarding our mental health is a social justice issue. The United Church of Christ (UCC) Mental Health Network is an affiliated organization of the UCC that works to reduce stigma and promote the inclusion of people with mental illnesses/brain disorders and their families in the life, leadership, and work of congregations. They provide resources and assistance to and for congregations to join the mission of being “WISE” congregations (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged) in the mental health of the community and the wider world.
When we say “All Are Welcome” at our churches, mental health status must not be an exclusion!
Rev. Patrick Rogers, MDiv. – Community Activist and Senior Pastor at
United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale.