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Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

I have personally experienced how a merciful church community can support the healing process, and I hope you will consider the following practical suggestions:

1. Care for the depressed person’s physical needs.

In 1 Kings, Elijah sat down under a tree after a significant spiritual victory and told God he was ready to die. God answered Elijah by first providing for his immediate physical needs: hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Mother Teresa lived her life fulfilling the physically needy so she could reach their souls with the love of Jesus.

A depressed person may have no physical resources to deal with the struggle they’re facing because of their symptoms (poor eating habits, lack of sleep, etc.). Encourage an active lifestyle; tell them it will be difficult to maintain but can help ward off a serious episode. Make sure someone around them can account for them physically from day to day.

2. Help them pray, and pray for them.

Depressed people often cannot manage praying for themselves, and although the Spirit will intercede for them in their inexpressible groaning (Romans 8:26–27), the intercession of the Body will be vital to put a voice to the suffering. Encourage others to intercede who care for the person and can protect his/her confidentiality. Intercessory prayer will also allow the Body to express their compassion and desire to help their hurting brother or sister when the healing process seems long.

3. Encourage or assist them to accurately assess their issues.

When spiritual discipline does not alleviate the person’s symptoms, and you can confirm the person’s wholehearted attempt, encourage the sufferer to see a qualified physician, not just a general practitioner but someone trained to recognize mental illness. Assure them that clinical depression is very common; nearly 80 percent of the American population will experience at least one clinical depressive episode during their lifetime. Relieve them from the responsibility of analyzing their lives until a real diagnosis can be achieved. If a physician uncovers an actual issue, re-focus your efforts appropriately. Then encourage them to maintain their clinical treatment options as you work with them spiritually.

4. Assure them of God’s truth.

Depressed people can forget what joy feels like. Their unmet expectations and what they see as personal failures can immobilize them with guilt. Make sure they know the truth of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness; accurately depict His power and holiness and correct any wrong perceptions. Show them how God sees them: wiped clean by Christ’s sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him as beloved children. Remind the person that these truths are independent of perception, i.e., the truth is such not because of who hears it, but because of Who declares it! Amen!

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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including ChurchLeaders.com and SermonCentral.com.