If a kid has mental illness, who will invite their family to church?

ID-100111764In the sixth segment in our series… Ten Things I Wish Church Leaders Knew About Families and Mental Illness, we’ll examine the factors that make it less likely that families impacted by mental illness have relationships with people able to invite them to church.

Social isolation is an unfortunate byproduct of the conditions we treat in our child and adolescent psychiatry clinic. Families of kids with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, disruptive behavior disorders or autism spectrum disorders are vulnerable to a vicious cycle of escalating social isolation perpetuated by the functional limitations associated with their conditions, their propensity to misinterpret the thoughts and reactions of others and the stigma associated with mental illness. Here are some thoughts as to why…

  • Kids with common mental health conditions are less likely to have friends to invite them to church, vacation Bible school, retreats and mission trips. Kids and teens may talk or act in a manner that rubs peers or adults the wrong way. Kids with ADHD who are too impatient to follow the rules of a game or struggle with anger management and emotional self-regulation often find themselves removed from the birthday party circuit and with a limited range of options for after-school play. Bright kids who struggle with social communication irritate peers when they talk incessantly about football statistics or their favorite movie. Friends of a teen with anxiety may stop texting or calling if their friend repeatedly declines invitations to parties, dances or activities where groups of kids gather.
  • Families of kids with common mental health conditions are less likely to be part of the youth sports culture where parents connect with neighbors. Difficulties with motor coordination occur more frequently in kids with mental health disorders or developmental disabilities. Kids with ADHD may have more difficulty keeping commitments they make to participate on teams. Transitions when kids need to leave for practices or games are often sources of great frustration.
  • Kids and adults impacted by mental illness frequently isolate themselves because they misperceive how they’re viewed by others. Kids with anxiety disorders tend to overestimate the risks of entering into new situations. They are prone to make grossly inaccurate assumptions about how they’re perceived by other people that frequently lead to patterns of avoiding situations, activities and relationships that would otherwise be pleasurable. A parent with anxiety is more likely to avoid opportunities for meaningful relationships with others. This is the premise behind the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for kids with anxiety disorders and depression…addressing the misperceptions that underlie dysfunctional patterns of behavior is essential in overcoming anxiety and the social isolation that frequently contributes to depression.
  • Difficulties in accessing child care may prevent parents from developing friendships with neighbors who attend church. Babysitting options are more limited when kids experience significant difficulty with self-control, separation anxiety or social communication…parents can’t ask just any teen to watch their child. Discretionary income may be more limited due to out of pocket costs for appropriate therapy or medication.

The bottom line is that it’s hard for families to be invited to church when they don’t know anyone who regularly attends church. They won’t come to us. We need to find a way to meaningfully connect with them!


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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