In my introductory blog, I touched on a few of the reasons why mental illness is such a hot potato issue for so many Christians, and why people suffering from mental illness often prefer to hide their illness versus seeking help from their church. I found this to be a very interesting article because it shows that it doesn’t matter what kind of church you go to, the stigma still follows you.
According to Deseret News, a 2011 Baylor University survey of 6,000 people from 24 churches found that 27 percent of families had some form of mental illness in them. Those 24 churches were comprised of four different Protestant denominations. The families coping with mental illness with twice the financial difficulties, family, and work struggles as the “healthy” ones. Sadly, while the 27 percent said that getting mental health assistance was important to them, their fellow churchgoers barely seemed to care. Said Dr. Mark Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor:
“The data give the impression that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible.”
Mormons are dealing with the same issues that Protestants (and no doubt Catholics) are. When psychologist Rick Hawks spoke at Brigham Young University in 2005, he outlined some of the top myths that churchgoers have about faith and mental illness. I’m sure some of these will sound familiar:
-You won’t get a mental illness if you keep the Ten Commandments
-All emotional problems are tied to personal sin
-You can pray a mental illness away, or hold it at bay
-Only weak people seek professional help
-Mentally ill people have no willpower
Church of Latter-Day Saints Elder Alexander B. Morrison also tackled mental health-related myths in his book, Valley of Sorrows:
-All mental illness is caused by sin
-Children and young people do not suffer from mental illness
-Mental illness is untreatable.
I consider myself fortunate to be going to a church that “gets it” or at least tries to. Mental illness is the sort of thing you can’t really understand unless you have it or you’re close to someone else that does. But if you have a church that is open to dialogue, and does its best to reach out instead of push back, consider yourself blessed. Take notes and be an educator for other churches that still have the blinds pulled down over their stained glass windows.
Church photo available from Shutterstock