AND HOW THE CHURCH CAN RESPOND
It’s a conversation I’ll never forget. While visiting with a local pastor one day about the mental health focus of The Lutheran Foundation, he shared something he did one Sunday morning in church.
As people gathered for worship, everyone received a sheet of paper with a list of ten questions related to mental health issues. There were questions like, “Have you ever been depressed?” and “Have you ever been prescribed medication for mental health issues?” Each person was to circle any question that applied to them.
When everyone finished answering their questions, the ushers collected them. They shuffled the papers and walked to a different part of the church to pass out those same sheets of paper. Each person was now holding someone else’s paper (no names were on them.) The pastor then started to read the questions, one by one, and asked people to stand up if the question he read was circled on the sheet they were holding.
When people in the congregation saw the number of people standing up in response to each question, there was an audible gasp from the congregation. “Everyone thinks they are the only one living with mental health issues,” the pastor said. Too often, the stigma is so great in the church that people are afraid to talk about mental illness.
While author Amy Simpson was growing up, her mother had serious psychotic episodes and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family was always active in church. But when it came to her mother’s mental health issues, there was silence and shame. “We needed community and loving friendships,” she says. “The church is one of the only places left in society where that is readily available — at least in theory.” Amy tells her family’s story in her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. Amy says the phrase is not original with her, but she often refers to mental illness as the “no-casserole illness.” It’s not uncommon for people from church to bring a casserole when a family member is in the hospital, or when there has been a death in the family. But when it’s mental illness, people often don’t call or visit, or bring casseroles.
However, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. That also means one in five in our churches. Most people don’t realize that mental illness is more common than cancer, heart disease
The Lutheran Foundation is focused on promoting mental wellness and reducing stigma around mental illness. Starting the conversation and silencing the stigma is one step toward healing. Sometimes those caring conversations happen best across the table… over a casserole.Contributed through the LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission monthly newsletter By Rev. Dr. Dennis Goff, director of Ministry Programs for The Lutheran Foundation, Fort Wayne, Ind.