Much has been done to increase awareness about mental health in the church. But there’s room for better understanding. A lot more needs to happen than simple acceptance alone.

People with mental health issues are no different in wanting to be regarded as having equal worth with others. It’s common for them to  be looked down upon, preventing them from building the confidence and strength needed to survive. But our attitudes towards them end up making them feel inferior and weak. They end up with low self-esteem. Such low self-esteem prevents them from becoming emotionally healthy and living a fruitful life.

Unfortunately, it’s natural for a caring individual to take a needy person “under her wings,” like a mother might. But that doesn’t do much for a person’s feeling of self-worth. It promotes dependency. Such an approach to support has been known to lead to over-reliance—and even a clinging behavior. When this behavior becomes evident, the reputation of the “needy” person is damaged, causing others in her community to avoid them—even shun them. Hope for recovery is reduced. So is their hope of being accepted into the community.

The manner of support we offer those living with mental ill health, plays an important part in how well they will do and—in the end—how well they will be accepted by the community. Do we treat them as a mother or father might, holding them as helpless children, unable to rely on themselves? Or will we treat them as brothers and sisters, walking alongside them in fellowship as they grow? How would Jesus treat us? The Bible says that Jesus is our brother.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)

The best approach to giving support is always the one where the person with difficulties is looked on as a person like any other. Not strange, or different—but unique. Not less than, but equal under God. One of God’s children, part of his family in the way all we who believe are. Worthy to be known and understood. Worthy to be our friend.

marja bergen