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Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

5. Give them specific spiritual steps to follow when a serious episode strikes.

Quality of life for the depressed can be cyclical, with good days and bad days. Bad days can occur unexpectedly and harshly. Give them a written list of spiritual activities in which to engage when their symptoms threaten their well-being. These activities might include reading specific Scripture passages, statements to populate their prayers, reminders of God’s truths, names and phone numbers of people to call, etc. Emphasize perseverance rather than achievement in these activities. Writing the list down will be crucial; a piece of paper in front of them will help them focus when their minds cannot do it alone, and holding it in their hands will tangibly remind them that someone cares and solutions exist.

6.Minister to those who care for them.

The families and loved ones of the mentally ill often suffer as much as the patient themselves, particularly if they have no experience with mental illness. They may feel out of control, angry, bitter, burdened, worried or depressed themselves. Offer to speak to relatives separately from the depressed person, and minister to their unique spiritual needs as you uncover them.

7. Be patient.

Depression is treatable, but it can be a long, complex road. Remedies are varied and must work for the individual. Treatment methods can take time to implement. Despite its high treatment success rate, two-thirds of people with depression do not seek treatment at all, and half of depressed people can be tempted to give up when they must wait for relief, especially since the illness can affect their level of motivation. They can also get frustrated if their first treatment method fails or needs adjustment.

Assure them that no matter how difficult it gets, you will always be willing to accompany them on their journey to wholeness. Don’t tire of doing good on their behalf, but reiterate the truth as they lose it in their personal darkness. As you persevere, so will they, and you’ll uncover all kinds of opportunities for spiritual growth.

8. Refer the severely ill.

Some clinical cases will be beyond your assistance. The best, most loving act in this instance is a referral to someone who truly can help them. Investigate local psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and therapists in your area; take the time to call them and ask how they approach spiritual questions from patients. Keep names of appropriate professionals handy for reference, and direct lay leadership to refer mental illness issues to you.

When depression can be controlled, a spiritual light can result that burns brighter and longer than ever before; it’s a holy deliverance from a very personal sort of pain. John Ortberg said once, “Often it is the people closest to suffering who have the most powerful joy.” Truly, it is only when we experience profound darkness that we can fully revel in the light of Christ.


(This important article on ministry and mental illness originally appeared in 2018.)

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