The Church Response to Families Impacted by Depression
The reality of watching a loved one suffer through depression is emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting. A family member or spouse has tried everything to help their loved one, but their flicker of hope fades as the still the see the depression linger. The emotional stress builds up with tears …
Frustration: “I don’t understand”
Helplessness: “I don’t know what to do … nothing is working”
Hopelessness: “God, why are you not answering my prayers? … The church counsel is not working”
Exhaustion: “Why God … why me … why us … where are You?
Without proper support from an understanding church community, this turns to debilitating despair, and many leave the church and walk away from God. I have worked and met many of these families and have received countless emails with heart breaking stories.
What is a church supposed to do? What does support look like for these families? The answer is … keep it simple and loving. Here are ways a church can respond.
1. Understanding – we work with many pastors and church leaders to understand the reality of mental health difficulties and disorders. They do not have to be psychologists, but they can learn the clinical and biblical balance of these mental health difficulties and disorders. With good education and training, they can provide much better support.
2. Grace – the family is experience grieving and even a paradigm shift on their personal faith theology. As noted above, the grief has shock, anger, sadness, guilt, shame and eventually they will come to more resolved acceptance. In the midst of the painful journey, it is not the time to fix the situation by prescribing more spiritual activities, try to find fault, or even get into deep theological discussions to explain depression. We want to bring comfort, not more confusion. When we are heavy and weary … we come to Jesus for rest (Matthew 25.11). As a church leader you do not have to know the answers, nor be able to explain it theologically. All it takes is loving care … active listening through the tears, validating the pain they are going through, affirming the relationship of God and the church, and offer support. “I know this is so hard and painful, rightly so. I do not have all the answers, but please know we love you and your loved one, we will walk with you with God’s grace each step of the way. We will try to do what we can practically to help you through this journey”.
3. Support – the church can consider having biblically based mental health support groups for these families. We (Mental Health Grace Alliance) have designed Family Grace Groups for family members who have a loved one affected by mental health difficulties and disorders. The groups are led by non-professionals and work in any church. The groups follow a faith-structured curriculum of topics to help understand and navigate challenges and even learning their own self-care. In addition, you can help them get connected to other mental health organizations within the community who provide classes and support.
4. Vision … #RecoverHope – communicate hope … in other words communicate the process of getting better, not promising immediate “breakthrough”. Research reveals that 80-90% of those with proper support and care can reach significant recovery and lead successful lives. We provide recovery support and have seen many incredible lives transformed and living full and joyful lives. Communicate that with support and time, life can get better and back to a purposeful life.
The best way to understand and implement these points is to get connected to mental health organizations like ours (MHGA) and Key Ministry who understand the clinical and biblical balance of mental health care needs … and can provide training and resources for free! As well, there are other organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) who provide a wealth of support and resources.
When we have done many seminars at various churches where someone usually comes up and tells me that they have stayed away from the church and God because of feeling misunderstood. Or someone telling us they cried uncontrollably because it’s the first time they’ve heard this talked about in the church. In their next breath they share how they are drawing back to God and wanting to get back into church. One woman told me, “I’ve avoided the church for years, but because of this seminar I’ve joined this church community.” The church has a huge role to bring supportive care and recovery.
Grace can be practical … life gets better!
Written by Joe Padilla