To Commune “to come together”
If you don”t know what to say, don’t say anything…
What is Community?
As a child, I had the experience of watching my mother struggle with mental health issues after she gave birth to my sister. I won’t share all of her stories because it is not my story to tell, but what I will share is that she was part of a community that seemed to drop the ball when it came to a solid support that would impact her mental health. The root word of community is “to commune” which is also the same as “to communicate.” It literally means that we come together.
As I grew up into my teenage years my mother started a daycare within the church as a “ministry for the church.” This was a great way for the church to reach out to the community and be a light to the kids and families where we lived. What unfolded, however, was my mother seemed to slave away and feel underpaid, underappreciated employee which led to burnout and a mental health breakdown.
When I was in youth group I remember my sister was dealing with bullying and identity issues, and the youth pastor noted that the Lord was leading him to take a year off to pray about the next steps. Meanwhile, my sister seemed to suffer emotionally.
During this time one of my best friends in the youth group decided to attempt to take his own life. Thankfully he was not successful. It was quite the gong show, and I wonder what would have changed if there was more teaching and training in mental health within our church community.
The Words We Don’t Speak are More Important
In 2015 I was diagnosed with a critical illness and had many people associated with the church say “ I don’t know why I am blessed and you’re not.” Being told, “You just need to rejoice with other people. ”Or “You need to claim your healing and walk in it.” Or “You just need to take a deep breath and calm down.”
The reason I bring up some of these experiences is not to put shame on the church and complain about them, but it is to make the point that we are in desperate need of mental health support, awareness, and teaching on how to support those in our congregations.
For myself, I have found that the best words spoken to someone going through difficulty, are actually not spoken words at all. I have found that the best support I can be at times to people is to simply listen and validate that person’s experience. I think often in the church people want to give answers instead of sit with people in their pain.
Think about all the people you know right now and see if you can think of at least one person dealing with a difficult situation that is impacting their mental health. Most of us can think of at least one.
There are studies that show that people who are religious are actually happier people. I interpret this as people who have a strong faith community that is safe, supportive, non-judgmental, and open to helping and supporting those with empathy. The other factor in these studies may be the impact on the individual of living with a purpose and exploring existential questions of life.
One of the reasons I went into a Counselling Psychology Master of Arts program is because I had a passion for faith, but had observed through my experience that there are so many hurting people, and the church is not equipped to deal with them effectively.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for the disconnect from mental health support in the church and the overemphasis on prayer, reading your bible, worship, and positive thinking is that there has been a lack of teaching on empathy, connection, dealing with conflict, personality styles, sexuality, grief, pain, suffering, listening skills, mental illness including depression, anxiety, bipolar, BPD, etc…
40% of people within the church seek after church leadership in attempts to deal with their personal issues, while approximately 15% seek out a counselling or psychologist. I wonder however if Pastoral staff is trained adequately in these areas. https://imentalhealth.ca/partner-with-us/
What Is Your Philosophy of Counselling?
I want to spark interest in you as a church leader to think about the mental health of the church. How are you approaching individuals who are going through difficulties? Have you trained adequately? What is your philosophy of caring or counseling?
I believe it’s time for a dialogue about mental health within the church and how we can best approach this.
I am currently piloting a Church Employee and Congregation assistance program that is giving a package to churches or hourly packages to try out the program.
I would love to connect with you and share my heart and vision for mental health because we want to be a healthy community of believers.
- Think of the core needs of your congregation in terms of mental health support.
- Contact us and we will send you our free info package and set up a time to discuss mental health needs within your church.
- We come up with a plan that works for your budget and the needs of your community.