Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking and/or behavior. Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. It is not uncommon for the family and caregivers to be under great stress as they care for a loved one with a serious mental illness. Further, stigmas can lead to feelings of alienation, embarrassment, and isolation for the one suffering, the family and caregivers.
The degree of impact of a mental illness can vary from day to day, thus the person’s needs for support for assistance can change over time, even daily. Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many sufferers will not openly admit their needs, which inhibits access to medical and psychological therapies and resources that are available.
Six Goals in Ministering to Populations With Mental Illness:
- Accessibility. The point of this goal is to provide an environment in which everyone feels welcome and has access to all areas of church life, regardless of her or his mental condition. Although in many cases the individual with this type of illness will have full physical access to church and church activities, there may be cases in which individuals impacted more severely by their illness may not be able to drive and may need transportation assistance to attend church services.
- Education. Considerable misinformation about mental disorders may be present among church members. It is critical that educational outreach address issues of fear and stigma surrounding worshipers with these illnesses.
- Encouragement. The focus of this goal is to promote participation in appropriate areas of church life. Providing a safe, loving environment within all levels of the church for all people is the privilege of every Christian.
- Accommodation. The goal is to help God’s family be inclusive in principle and practice. Possibility Ministries promotes the inclusion of qualified persons with special needs in church committees, forums, volunteer service opportunities and other ministries.
- Support. Often family members of those who struggle with mental health need support. The kind of support needed varies but local resources need to be identified and offered.
- Ministry/Service. A major goal for each Possibility Ministry is to work towards restoring a sense of dignity and personal worth in the individuals served. Linked with this objective is both the discovery of hidden talents and the use of one’s talents in the service to others. The example of Jesus was clearly reaching out with understanding, hope, and belief in the individual while opening doors of opportunity for service. Restoring meaning to life is at the heart of all forms of Possibility Ministries.
Conclusion. Social stigmas associated with mental illness are powerful and can prevent individuals from fully participating in a church community. The church should be one place where a person with a mental illness knows they will be welcome and intentionally included in appropriate activities. We must reach out to this population and share with them the gospel message and the love and peace only Jesus can offer. The families of these members should also find or know where to find the coping support they need.