Breaking the Faith Stigma Around Mental Illness

“Why can’t the church understand that this is really an ILLNESS, and not a faith problem?”

“How can we break the stigma around mental illness in the church?  How can we get people to stop telling us to just have faith and pray?  Why can’t the church understand that this is really an ILLNESS, and not a faith problem?”

There continues to be enormous stigma and misinformation around mental illness in the Christian community.

A recent study indicated that about half of Evangelical Christians believe that mental illness can be overcome by Bible study and prayer alone.  On my Facebook feed yesterday, I saw an article from a well-known pastor’s blog to that effect.  On another post, I saw someone saying that medication is of the devil.  The stigma is very, very real.

I’m encouraged by the work of Rick and Kay Warren in the past couple of years.  I think the efforts of influential leaders like the Warrens will bear healthy fruit in years to come in church culture.  I think it’s going to get better.

Meanwhile, we live with stigma.

I think the problem is far deeper than just getting good information to people.

The problem is really about fear.

And it’s about what people want from their faith:  control.

The “pray and read your Bible” answer helps people feel safe and in control.

If your mental illness is a faith problem, that helps other people feel safe.  

They won’t end up with your problems because they are having better faith than you.

Obviously, since you have mental illness and they don’t.

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They don’t want to understand that bad things can happen to good people who love Jesus and have faith and pray and read their Bibles and aren’t doing anything wrong.

That is just way too scary.  

I don’t think there is much we can do to force other people to accept the reality of mental illness, when their primary concern is safety and control.

We all understand this desire for safety and control, right?  It’s a normal human thing.  We all have that same disease.

It’s just that some of us have been given the gift of failure.

Our rules, our answers, our goodness–all that fell and it broke and we know that it can’t be the answer any more.

And beauty of brokenness opens us up to the big Good News that Love is enough for us, even when life is terribly terribly hard and painful.

When you run into people who are stuck in fear-and-control, please hear it as THEIR FEAR, and not your lack of faith.

Thank them politely while moving calmly and purposefully toward the nearest exit.  

Meanwhile, find a safe place.

Find good people who get it, who know that the rules are broken but Love is enough.

Find a good doctor.  Get your meds right.

Create healthy boundaries.

Hunker down and be safe while you heal.

Hold onto hope.

Know that the morning will come.

Then, when it does, be a safe place for the next person who needs you.

Kay Bruner
I live in the Dallas, Texas area these days, with my family where I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice.  It’s my pleasure to work with clients who need to know, like I do, that we are all loved with an everlasting love.  I also enjoy sharing my story with groups, and I am available for speaking engagements.  

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