Why We Must Put an End to the Stigma of Mental Illness

Why We Must Put an End to the Stigma of Mental Illness

Everyone is broken.

It’s a fact of life that’s not only clear from the pages of the Bible but also from the practical reality of what we see around us and in our own lives. Our bodies are broken. Our emotions are broken. Guess what? Our minds are broken, too.

Why We Must Put an End to the Stigma of Mental Illness

If your liver stops working, you can go to a doctor to get it fixed. If you have a broken bone, you can get it set.

We don’t look down at people who get sick. We don’t second-guess the fact that they need medicine. We don’t tell them they need to pray harder.

But what do we say to people with mental health challenges?

We’ve stigmatized mental health for far too long. But the truth is, your brain is just another organ. It’s not a sin to be sick. Your character isn’t defined by your chemistry. Your identity is not your illness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness, and nearly 10 million Americans live with a serious mental illness.

Every single one of us knows someone with a mental illness.

Yet, for some reason, the stigma surrounding mental illness is profoundly and deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s even in our churches.

Stigmatizing mental illness isn’t just unkind. It can be lethal. Many people believe they have to hide their mental illnesses from their church families, who should be loving and accepting of them. That just makes the problem worse. It leads to despair.

So what can we do about this awful stigma?

1. We can constantly tell the stories of how God is using people with mental illnesses. Many of you know that my son Matthew struggled with mental illness for 27 years before he lost his battle in 2013. I received probably 35,000 letters of condolences after his passing. Honestly, it was quite overwhelming. But of all the letters I received, it wasn’t any from kings, queens and presidents that meant the most to me. The most meaningful letters came from people Matthew led to Christ. People would tell me, “I’m going to be in heaven because your son told me about Jesus.” I remember getting those letters and then writing in my journal, “In God’s garden, even broken trees bear fruit.” If God only used perfect people, nothing would ever get done. God uses all of us in spite of our struggles. To end the stigma of mental illness, we must constantly tell the story of people with mental illnesses whom God is using. I have them in my church. You have them in yours. Let’s tell people their stories.

2. As leaders, we must be honest about our own mental health challenges. We struggle with mental health just like anyone else. Becoming a leader certainly doesn’t insulate you from depression, anxiety or any other mental health challenges. Honestly, I was depressed my entire second year as pastor of Saddleback Church. My goal wasn’t, “God, build a great church.” My goal was, “God, get me through Sunday.” But I never gave up. More importantly, God didn’t give up on me. God used that time in my life as a leader. Some of the most significant developments of my ministry at Saddleback can be traced back to that period. God never wastes a hurt. Leaders should never shy away from showing people this truth. When leaders begin to show their own frailty with mental illness—and how God has used their struggles to make them better—it’ll wipe out the stigma.

3. We need to provide a safe place for people to talk about their mental health challenges. This is how Celebrate Recovery® can play a huge role in eliminating the stigma of mental illness. At Celebrate Recovery you know how to provide a safe place for people to openly share about their struggles. You do it every week. When people come to CR, they’re not identified by their habit. They identify with Jesus. The same needs to happen with mental illness. The people who come to your church with a mental illness shouldn’t be defined by it, either. In Celebrate Recovery, you have an opportunity to lead the way in providing a safe place for those with mental illness. As you model this behavior to other areas of your church, this dangerous stigma will fall.

It’s time for us to end the stigma of mental health. It’s time for the church to take the lead in helping people with mental illnesses. Jesus cared about the mental health of people. He ministered to those with mental illnesses.

If Jesus thought it was important to minister to those with mental illnesses, shouldn’t we do whatever we can to end the mental health stigma in our churches so we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community today?

This article originally appeared here.

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Rick Warren
Dr. Rick Warren is passionate about attacking what he calls the five “Global Goliaths” – spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education. His goal is a second Reformation by restoring responsibility in people, credibility in churches, and civility in culture. He is a pastor, global strategist, theologian, and philanthropist. He’s been often named "America's most influential spiritual leader" and “America’s Pastor.