Churches Still Struggle to Talk about Mental Health

Mental health remains an elusive challenge for both clergy and lay leaders, even in this post-pandemic world.

Churches Still Struggle to Talk about Mental Health
Doug Reed
Aug 16, 2023

If there ever was a silver lining to the pandemic, it just may have been an elevated conversation regarding mental health.  Rarely does a week pass without hearing about an athlete, celebrity, politician, or other public figure sharing their personal struggles – whether with anxiety, depression, substance use or other mental health disorders.

But what about churches?  As communities of faith, are we, too, more transparent regarding the presence of mental health challenges among our congregations?  For that matter, does our experience with mental health differ from that of the secular world?

Many would believe, and statistics seem to bear this out, that mental health remains an elusive challenge for both clergy and lay leaders, even in this post-pandemic world.  Likely contributors are lack of education and awareness combined with an uneasiness and a general discomfort when discussing mental health disorders.

In her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, author Amy Simpson offers sobering survey statistics that highlight the extent to which churches are missing (or even ignoring) the prevalence of mental health challenges within their own congregations.  

For example:

  • 77% of church leaders are approached more than 2x/year for help with mental illness.
  • 37.9% of church leaders have never reached out to someone in their congregation with mental illness, despite being aware of it.
  • 30.5% of survey respondents said, “mental illness is a reflection of a spiritual problem that must be treated spiritually.”
  • 29.4% of survey respondents said mental illness is a “behavioral problem caused by a person’s bad choices.
  • 19.7% said it’s “indicative of demon possession/demonic influence.”

Let’s face it – mental health can be extremely messy to deal with and to talk about, much less to confront.  For churches this can be devasting, because for many communities the local church is more than a spiritual partner.  It’s a trusted resource for life’s challenges.  

At Beacon of Light, we believe that churches are on the front lines of the mental crisis, and, in many cases, really have no idea how to even begin to meet the mental health needs of their communities.  A core component of our mission is to equip churches to meet the mental health needs of their communities.  

Our approach is based on several important pillars:

  • We believe churches have an obligation to provide mental health resources;
  • An effective mental health ministry is not a “pray-it-away” strategy, it must combine evidence-based clinical practices with a strong foundation of faith and biblical understanding.
  • Mental health disorders are not a result of a moral failing or a lack of personal or spiritual discipline.  In most cases these are brain diseases.  
  • Mental health can be complex; to address effectively it requires a variety of educational, awareness, training, and treatment tactics.
  • Churches are centers of hope and healing – we should address mental health disorders just as we would any physical health disorder or ailment.   

Beacon of Light is building out a comprehensive mental health program that will enable churches to proactively address the mental health needs of their communities and of their congregations.  Leveraging a panel of clinical experts and trusted spiritual disciplines, the Beacon of Light program is being developed to offer churches:

  • A proprietary multi-media curriculum design to train and equip clergy and lay leadership on awareness, identification, and de-escalation of mental health disorders.
  • A variety of dynamic content delivered through webinars, podcasts, a monthly newsletter, and on-line resources.
  • A communications strategy outlining how churches can use social media, public relations, and marketing tactics to build a mental health friendly culture.
  • A comprehensive “playbook” that will provide step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate all of the Beacon of Light tools and programming.

Each week at churches across the country, there are an untold number of neighbors, family members and brothers and sisters in Christ who are quietly suffering from mental illness, yet arrive at church seeking guidance, healing and, above all, hope.  In the coming months we will profile elements of our programming that will be designed to do just that.