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People who go to church usually have better mental health than people who don’t. Almost half of people facing a mental illness crisis turn to the church first. Still …

People Fear Stigma and Discrimination, Even at Church

Lots of people are worried that people at church will discriminate against them if they know about their mental illness. In the very place where everyone wants an authentic community, many people with mental illnesses are living behind masks.

  • You hear that someone won’t say she has bipolar because she’s afraid no one will trust her to teach their children in Sunday School.
  • You discover that the person with the brightest Sunday morning smile can barely get out of bed due to depression.
  • You learn that someone in your Bible study tried to kill himself when he received a terminal diagnosis.

And you ask … How could I not have known?

But when the church is the authentic community it wants to be, it offers exactly the kind of mental health services that the doctor and the Great Physician have ordered.

Churches Offer Mental Health Programs (Without Knowing It!)

When you start looking at list of evidence-based practices for the prevention of mental illness and substance abuse, it’s amazing how many look like what churches already do, as part of their calling before God:

  • Mentoring programs
  • Activity programs for older adults
  • Early childhood home visiting programs
  • Group-based parenting programs
  • Nurse-family partnership (particularly in African-American churches)
  • Outdoor experiential education (summer camps)

Churches also offer programs that are sufficiently similar to evidence-based practices that they merit recognition as valuable efforts toward achieving community mental health goals. NAMI Family to Family, an evidence-based program, is usually offered in church buildings, although it does not have a faith component.

Churches De-Stigmatize Mental Health Care (Without Knowing It!)

Stephen Ministries in many churches parallel the evidence-based Compeer, although Stephen ministers support people with many kinds of needs, not just those with mental health issues. This makes reliance on a Stephen minister less stigmatizing than calling a Compeer helper.

Churches have a long way to go in building the support they want to accomplish for people with mental health needs. But there’s a reason the data shows that going to church is good for your mental health. Churches, generally speaking, do the stuff that’s good for your emotional stability.

I’m not discounting anyone’s experience of church abuse — that’s a whole different topic for a different day. Same for clergy burnout and fatigue.

But what churches are built to do, and do an awful lot of, is what we’d call “evidence-based practice” anywhere else. What evidence have you seen?

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