This past weekend brought the sad news for from one of the great preachers/pastor of our era. It was announced that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church, one Americas largest churches, son Matthew committed Suicide this past week. As with anytime we receive news like this our heart breaks for the family and friends.
There are no words that can be used to help the family and friends to grasp the since the loss they are feeling, It is through the loving spirit of Christ and the support of family and friends that we can. The ability to move forward and the tender embraces of Christ love gives us solace in the thoughts of knowing we will see this loved one again sitting with Christ. With the joy unspeakable, that they struggled to obtain here on earth.
Over the weekend I was amazed at the comment’s I read, most were supportive and encouraging, and individuals shared their condolences. However, I will say a few were inappropriate at the time like this. These inappropriate comments and questions did raise a concern for me as a pastoral counselor and minister, what does the church really understands about Mental Illness or in some cases what are they willing to learn about it? This summer the American Psychiatric Association will release the updated and much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-5. It discusses the signs and symptoms of Mental Illness. I have also been amazed at the number of pastors, Christian counselors, and laymen in the church that have dismissed the use of this resource. And how many will not read it.
One of the key topics with DSM-5 and yes even with in scripture itself is the discussion of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include the following: Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions, Fatigue and decreased energy, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness, Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism, Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping , Irritability, restlessness, Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex, Overeating or appetite loss, Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment, Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings, Addiction, Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts. Some reports state that as many 15% of those suffer from depression will attempt and many they are successful at suicide.
Too often we think of someone with a mental illness as having a shameful diagnosis when in fact if it is simply a brain disorder, not different from a heart disorder. There are underlying biological reasons for these brain disorder and they are usually not caused by other people or the individual.
Throughout scripture we find many examples of individuals that suffered from depression, including some of the greats such as David, Jonah, Daniel, and many more. We can even say that Christ suffered from some anxiety and depression as HE kneeled in the garden, before going to cross.
My back ground has brought me in contact with individuals that suffer with depression every day, as well as my experiences as my work as a pastor. And I believe that the greatest need in the church today is an open and caring heart for the hurting. The stigmatize attitude needs to leave the morning worship service. Sitting in church and hearing prayer request after prayer request for individuals that have cancer, heart issues, in-grown toe nail, and upcoming test are all find and good (and do no misunderstand we need to hear these and pray for them). However, sitting there knowing a family that is struggling with a family member suffering from depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, and yes even Alzheimer’s disease. I sit there in the pew feeling their fear to say anything, because they will be judged differently than those with physical illness. It is time for a NEW DISCUSSION OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH.
In my opinion the following needs to occur. Believe me, I’m not out to win a popularity contest. However, I believe that someone needs to take a look at Mental Illness and give it, the place in the church that will allow the world to know that we care as much about the mentally ill as the physically sick.
1) The church needs understand what mental illness is, and begin talking about it. This is includes our pastors, don’t sweep it under the table but encourage individuals to be honest about their struggles. When they mention as a prayer request don’t judge it, give it the same attention as any other request. If you don’t understand what they said, in private ask them to explain and then seek a professional opinion, so that you know how and for what to pray if you need to.
2) Encourage the individual to continue in treatment, all too often as pastor s or laymen we think that we know best about what is going on with mental illness. There are individuals that will need to be on mediation for the remainder of their lives, to tell them differently is irresponsible.
3) Support the family, I have meet dozen if not hundreds of pastors that will drop everything to run to the bed side of a church member who family member is hospitalize, from cancer or other physical disease. However, won’t even pick up the phone to see how a family member is doing that is depressed. Encourage the family to seek help a great resources is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in my opinion every pastor should have their local chapter on speed dial.
As we close let’s be clear, I’m convinced that mental illness and if that is true it is treatable. However, I believe that God is a sovereign God, who will heal as he sees fit, and until that miracle healing comes for the individual weather it is mental illness or physical illness. However, we as the Body of Christ need to treat each with the same type of prayer.