"Since mental illness is a disease, Christian churches should take the same approach that we would with cancer, diabetes, or heart issues."
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and author, minister, and counselor Kristi Lemley has some advice for churches and Christian leaders - deal with it. Mental illness has often fallen into the "pray it away" philosophy for certain sects of the Christian faith, but Lemley says it is time for the Church to realize mental illness is real and it is not getting better or going away.
"God can heal and deliver any person from mental illness," says Lemley, who, along with being an ordained minister, is a trained counselor with degrees in Criminal Justice and Psychology along with a Master's in Social Work. "However, to think that God heals and delivers in only one way is misleading. I have prayed with a person who experienced panic attacks and she was delivered immediately. I have also prayed with a person who was suicidal and she had to go to the hospital to remain safe. Through hospitalization, correct medication, counseling, and prayer she has recovered from depression. Prayer and reading God's word is crucial to mental illness, but treatment can consist of other interventions. God has given wisdom for medication and gives wisdom to people for counseling. It is imperative to be open to how God wants to provide for each person and encourage that person to walk that path with God."
Over 81 million Americans experience some form of mental disorder each year, and 46% will experience it in their lifetimes, according to the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in youth aged 10 to 24. More teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Mental illness is also taking a toll on the economy. The National Institute of Mental Health says that mental illness in the U.S. ranks first among illnesses that result in disability. By 2020, depression is projected to be the leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. Christians are not immune to the effects of mental illness. In fact, according to the Schaeffer Institute, 70 percent of church pastors constantly fight depression.
How should the Church respond to these statistics
Lemley says there are three important things churches need to do. First, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness within the church is integral. "The church should be offering appropriate care and compassion for people with mental illness," says Lemley. "This can take the form of offering support groups, talking about it more in sermons or church literature, educating pastors about mental illness, and offering youth group or church-wide presentations to educate their congregations."
Lemley also suggests that churches have a ready-made list of local treatment resources, psychologists and counselors for people who are suffering from mental disorders. "There are many Christian providers available so the church can have confidence that God will always be at the center of the treatment," Lemley asserts. "This list should be readily available for anyone, not just people who meet with a pastor. This should be available for anyone who walks through the doors of a church, members or visitors alike."
Lastly, Lemley says the church needs to be welcoming to those who struggle with mental illness. "At times, people struggling with mental issues have been made to feel that their faith is lacking and if they just believed more they would be healed. The majority of Christians would not tell someone suffering from cancer to just pray about it and not follow up with treatment. Since mental illness is a disease, Christian churches should take the same approach that we would with cancer, diabetes, or heart issues."
Lemley's new book and group study entitled Broken and Transformed: Moving Beyond Life's Difficult Times , is a culmination of her personal journey through her own pain to find the freedom that Christ offers everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Drawing on her training and education, as well as her own experience of being sexually abused as a child, Lemley lays out both practical and spiritual applications that can help people deal with any tragedy or circumstance. "People can improve with psychological counseling, but cannot be truly healed," says Lemley. "Jesus said the truth will set us free, and He is truth. There are many things in the world that are not fair and not right, and without the perspective of understanding that God is sovereign, people can only progress so far."
In addition to her counseling practice and speaking engagements, Kristi Lemley is founder of Living in the Light Ministries, an international ministry focused on helping people deal with daily life struggles, and heal from their past hurts by experiencing the freedom and truth of the Gospel. Lemley served as host of a radio show called "Living in the Light" on KJSL radio station in St. Louis, where she helped hundreds of people on a daily basis sort through the difficulties they faced. Lemley also served as a guest host for the popular "Talk from the Heart" radio show hosted by Dr. Debra Peppers on the same station.
For more information and a free chapter download from Lemley's book, visit www.kristilemley.com
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