Two weeks ago, we invited readers of our blog to share their experiences of attending church as someone impacted by a mental health condition – either individually, or as a family member. We’ve begun to assemble the stories within our ministry website as a resource and an inspiration to leaders seeking to develop a mental health inclusion strategy within their churches.
I’d encourage you to read through all of the stories. Here are two excerpts of stories shared by our readers…
We had two children. One was diagnosed as a toddler with autism and the other had a post-college diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
I look back at the megachurch we attended and little was offered in support for us as a family…
The difficulties have been immense as a single mother and for my children: traversing medical and behavioral health care, advocating for appropriate educational services, finding a career that is flexible, financial struggles, exhaustion,loneliness, finding adult lifespan services,…to be honest, the church offered nothing to me or my children (even when I brought a need forward). I never felt like I belonged there. Needless, to say, I left after my older child transitioned to college after high school.
This is from the mother of a young woman with a mental health condition closely associated with complex medical concerns…
Our 22 year old daughter began exhibiting serious mental health problems when she was in 8th grade. Our family was going through several major crisises at that time including a job loss, two youngest entering public school from homeschooling. Our resources were strapped to say the least. We attended a small church in our college town. We found very little support from the leadership at the church except “We will pray for you.” Adults who had known her since 3rd grade that could have reached out, instead withdrew, and began to encourage her peers to not spend time with her. We later found out that many of these peers had bullied her for several years with many adult church leaders knowledge and without sharing these concerns with us. We also found that the longer she struggled emotionally and spiritually the less welcome we felt, and many people verbally stated her problem was a spiritual problem. A few close friends walked with us and prayed with us through the tears, but the youth ministry was woefully inept to come along and step into her life and help her. As she now recounts bitterly, “They were too busy trying to save me, that they ignored the things I needed the most like friendships.”
We eventually left the church for a different church where she felt more welcomed by adults and peers, but many peers thought of her only as that “troubled girl” from school. The youth leaders did more to make her feel welcomed, but still had very little resources or understanding of mental health issues. Church and youth group had the air of being a place for the “good kids.”
This past week, I was interviewed on a couple of radio programs – In the Market with Janet Parshall and on the Brian and Kathleen Morning Show on our local Moody Radio station in Cleveland. In each case, the hosts of the show took calls from the audience for a significant portion of our time on the air. I was especially moved by the words of one caller. The exchange begins at the 35:55 mark in the interview if you don’t have time to listen from beginning to end.
I was hospitalized this summer for twelve days…
I was treated terrible at the church I was attending. I was not visited one time in those twelve days, and I was told basically by a pastor that if I didn’t like it, twice that there was a door and I could leave.
I found a good church and I’m in a good church.
Mary Ann, Wooster OH
As I shared with the Brian and Kathleen and their listening audience, the most troubling aspect of the stories shared by Mary Ann and others is that their experiences reflect poorly upon the character of God as reflected through the words and actions of the church. We can and must do a lot better in sharing Christ’s love and the message of the Gospel with our friends and neighbors with mental illness and welcoming them into the fellowship of the church.
The time is now.
Click here if you have a story you’d like to share of your experiences of church – positive, negative or a little of both, as someone affected by mental illness.
Interested in being part of a book study led by Dr. Grcevich on Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions? Click here if you’d like to be included in the closed Facebook group where the study will begin on Tuesday, February 20th.
The book presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles and is designed as a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.