Many people don’t seek help for mental and emotional issues because they don’t want to be judged, or seen as weak or unable to take care of themselves. Past national research has shown that people are more likely to seek treatment for a mental disorder from a clergy member than from psychiatrists, general medical doctors or anyone else. In this way, pastors and churches have a unique opportunity to meet the needs of their community. Churches don’t get to decide whether they will have a mental health ministry; they already do.
The good news is that pastors want to help and believe churches should help. According to a 2018 LifeWay Research/Focus on the Family study, 90 percent of pastors believe the Church has a moral and spiritual responsibility to provide resources and support to those with mental illness and their families.
At the same time, there seems to be a communication gap from the pulpit to the congregation. One example: 68 percent of pastors say their churches maintain a list of experts for referrals, but only 28 percent of families with mentally ill loved ones are aware their churches have such a list. The LifeWay Research study also found that pastors do not speak to their congregations about mental illness on any kind of regular basis. Nearly half (49 percent) said they rarely, or never, speak on the subject to their churches in sermons or large group messages.
We can do better. Now is a good time to break the silence and minister well to even more people. As Diane Langberg illustrates in the cover article, the events of 2020 have both multiplied trauma and have exposed existing trauma. In a recent NAE podcast, Pastor Michael Carrion described what happened in his Bronx church: “One thing that we’ve noticed in our [mental health] sessions is that if you come from a family of origin where there was already underlying trauma that was never dealt with, that resurges in this. It almost awakens things. A lot of our folks have been articulating, ‘I didn’t realize but now I know.’”
People in our churches have lost loved ones, and experienced job loss, isolation and anxiety. The wrongful killings of several Black men and women have shed new light on recurring trauma experienced by African Americans in our country. This moment calls the Church to get its mental and emotional health care approach together like never before. People turn to pastors and churches to care for their mental and emotional health. As the most accessed form of mental health care, may we rise to the occasion.