Dos and Don’ts for Churches Addressing Mental Illness
DON’T: Stigmatize, judge or condemn
“We need to approach people with God’s heart. People with mental illness want the same things that the rest of us want; they want to belong, they want to be in a community, they want to have meaning and purpose, they want to connect, they want to serve.”
“You don’t need to treat people’s mental illness, they often need to see a therapist and get on medication; God is calling the church to love them, and minister to them, you get God’s heart for them.” – Sarah Gross
DO: See God’s image, invite into community & meaningful service.
“Unless you see the image of God in the person across from you, you have no right to speak.” – Dan Allender, Christian Therapist
DON’T: Assume there is a sin or a faith problem.
“Mental illness is more of a brain disease much of the time.” – Sarah Gross
DO: Normalize mental illness; accept and validate that’s it is just part of the human condition.
“Validation is a wonderful skill that says ‘I see you, you matter to me, it makes sense to me that you are suffering.’” – Sarah Gross
DON’T: Be cautious about focusing on the demonic.
“I believe spiritual warfare is a thing. When someone is in a mental health episode, they are incredibly vulnerable, and they don’t need someone screaming demons out of them. Be very careful about deliverance prayers. Focus more on a gentle approach as first, and assess and discern, and if there is spiritual warfare going on, then tread lightly and cautiously.” – Sarah Gross
DO: Pray! Discern, proceed with caution
“I think we need to treat people with mental illness similarly to epilepsy; when they are properly medicated and get appropriate treatment, often it is no demonic. But there is something about mental illness – often it just feels more spiritual than diabetes or cancer. I would encourage you to be cautious about that. Often when feels spiritual to you is your own discomfort, but there might chemically be something going on, and you need to proceed with caution.” – Sarah Gross
DON’T: Misuse Scripture or Christian clichés.
DO: Use scripture to encourage, build up, provide hope; Sometimes say nothing, and listen to what people are going through.
DON’T: Allow those with Mental Illness to drain/burn out your church.
DO: Set limits, insist on treatment and wellness.
DON’T: Try to treat severe mental illness.
“If someone in your congregation had cancer, you wouldn’t try to treat them. Stay in your lane. Know what you can do, what you can’t. You’re supposed to be the church; love, show compassion, invite them over for dinner, invite them to a small group. You’re not supposed to treat severe mental illness.” – Sarah Gross
DO: Know your limits! Have a list of resources/referrals at the ready, be part of the care team, Seek to understand and individualize care, Model mental wellness!
“How did Jesus respond to those with mental illness? He responded with compassion, he touched them. You don’t have to be an oncologist to care for those with cancer, same is true for mental illness. We need all God’s ways of healing: loving and touching people, we need medical intervention, lifestyle changes, prayer, and community.” – Sarah Gross
The Church is uniquely equipped to minister hope and healing to those with mental illness, because we are directly tapped into the mighty counselor, the great physician. So let’s love and minister to our brothers and sisters with mental illness by seeing God’s image in them, and loving them with His heart.” – Sarah Gross
Dos and Don’ts List Created by Sarah Gross, MSW, LICSW, Nystrom and Associates
Videos of the Talks:
Made in the Image of God – Sarah Gross, MSW, LICSW, Nystrom and Associates
Mental Health in Schools – Quincy Davis, School Counselor at Eastview High School
See My Son – Cherie Monge, Administrative Assistant, Bethel Christian Fellowship
The Battle Between Awe and Apathy – Rob Warland, Ministry Associate at Hope Community Church
Panel Discussion with Q & A