Yes, it's true. People in the church really DO say these things to others who are battling mental illness themselves or within their household.
Christians seem to have an uncanny way of adding to the hurt and confusion when it comes to issues of mental health. For too long, the church has avoided the elephant in the room, trying to shame it into submission by misusing Scripture.
It's not that people don't care. It's more that this is a leviathan that they have no idea how to attack.
Barely over a year ago, the youngest son of renowned pastor, Rick Warren, took his own life. The entire Christian community grieved along with Rick, his wife, Kay, their other children, and their church family. Who could make sense of this? If even the son of such an esteemed leader could fall victim to such a thing, are we not ALL incredibly vulnerable?
Romans 8:28. Something good gestated over the past year, and was recently birthed out of such sorrow. On March 28, 2014, Saddleback Church hosted the first ever Gathering on Mental Health and the Church. Billed as " a one-day event designed to encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness," this event proved to be a breakthrough for a grossly neglected issue within the church. Eight highly regarded experts, including Rick and Kay Warren themselves, spoke at the gathering.
I asked one attendee, whom I hold in very high esteem, what their thoughts were on this much-needed conference. Their response was as follows:
"What I liked: The brokenness of all people was emphasized in an effort to reduce the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. The church was charged to share the compassion of Christ with people who have mental illness in the same way and spirit extended to those with physical illness. I also appreciated the collaboration between Saddleback and the Catholic Diocese of Orange County. More of this is needed.
What needs more work: The conference dealt exclusively with adult mental illness, to the disappointment of parents of younger children who attended. Also, very little mention was made of PTSD, a huge oversight since trauma is the base of many, many mental illnesses and is highly treatable."While this gathering was hardly comprehensive or definitive, it was a far cry from the condemnation most Christians battling mental health issues feel when they dare to be candid with anyone within the church. In other words, it was a great start, and the Body of Christ needs to continue down this path with diligence and sincerity.
Given that the majority of Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, and also given the fact that we see no waning of incidents like the mass stabbing this week at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, PA, the church needs to majorly step up its game in the world of mental health. The fact is that when the church body alienates those with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and other myriad psychological diagnoses, we turn our backs on an enormous mission field right under our feet. The hope of Christ coupled together with traditional medical treatments and psychotherapy can make a remarkable difference in the lives of these families. And if we are willing to run to foreign lands to meet needs and make converts, yet step over, push out, and ignore those suffering so tremendously in our midst, we prove ourselves only be clanging gongs of hypocrisy.