HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE MENTALLY ILL: A BRIEF, PRACTICAL GUIDE
“Every religious leader can reach out to help the mentally ill persons and their families in his or her congregation/temple and community”
What are some of the problems caused by mental illness?
Mental illness is pervasive and destructive– National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) statistics reveal the horrific extensive effects of mental illness:
- One in four adults– approximately 61.5 million– experiences mental illness in a given year. (If one quarter of a church’s membership were out of work, had cancer, or homeless, how would that church’s/temple’s ministry change to meet those needs? What can or should be done to address for both youth and adults ages 18-44 the needs of the mentally ill and their families?)
- For both youth and adults ages 18-44, mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S.
- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide), and the third leading cause of death for ages 15-24 years. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorders.
- One in 17– about 13.6 million– live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder.
- Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 for both youth and adults ages 18-44 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.
A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states:
“In a time of vastly increased medical sophistication, which virtually guarantees greater numbers of restored mental patients, discrimination against them continues … for example, research studies have shown that most Americans think the two worst things that can happen to a person are leprosy and insanity. In American society, ex-convicts stand higher on the ladder of acceptance than former mental patients. Asked to rate 21 categories of disability, from the least offensive to the most, respondents placed mental illness on the bottom of the list.”
“Why should I and my church/temple make the effort to help the mentally ill and their families … isn’t this too much for clergy and laypersons? Shouldn’t this be the job for mental and medical health professionals?”
In the United States, clergy outnumber psychiatrists almost ten to one. Also, for more than twenty years, studies have consistently show that nearly 40 percent of the people seeking help with an emotional problem turn first to religious professionals, a much higher number than those who turn to psychiatrists, psychologists, and family physicians. (from: Bipolar Disorder: Rebuilding Your Life)
Regrettably, nearly half of the mentally ill and their families who turn to the people of the cloth for help are badly disappointed. One recent survey done by the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill, acknowledges that 40 percent of its families questioned had sought the help of the clergy. But when confronted with a mental illness “situation,” the religious leaders were found to be last in helpfulness.” (from: Bipolar Disorder: Rebuilding Your Life)
The Bible instructs Christians and Jews to care for the outcasts and hurting,
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy …”
– Psalm 82:3,4 -(NIV)
This awesome opportunity for spiritual outreach and practical love must begin with a co-partnering of clergy and laypersons.
Thus, the clergy and church/temple members who take their spiritual responsibilities seriously need to be the first line of defense in helping thousands of hurting mentally ill persons & their families.
“How will I and my church/temple benefit by starting a mental illness ministry?”
- Clergy will find themselves with lightened burdens, because their laity will be carrying some of the pastoral & administrative loads.
- Marriages, families, and individuals affected by mental illness can be spared from worse suffering. Many suicides can be prevented.
- If those members of our church/temple touched by mental disorders are not reached and helped, we will lose both members and money. They will become increasingly uninvolved and drop out. Our church/temple will lose money from their giving, and also the benefits of these sufferers using their skills and experiences to aid our members.
- Our church/temple can gain new workers from the recovering mentally Ill and their families.
- Spiritual renewal among our members can occur as a result of developing various programs for the mentally Ill and their families. A mental illness ministry can inspire and energize our current members into a far more active, giving ( of time, money, and talents), and caring community of faith. This new dimension of love will be contagious. Others will be drawn to us like moths to a light. Our members will find a greater joy in their faith, and an expanding vision for reaching out to touch others in practical ways with God’s love. Our membership rolls and budget can be increased.
- By starting a ministry with the mentally Ill and their families our church/temple can become a role model for other churches, temples, and secular organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Elks to follow.
Clergy Opportunities and Responsibilities–Here are concrete actions you can take now:
- Be willing to experiment! This new ministry will usually cost you no more than four hours a month for the first two months (to set up), and only about four hours per month to “maintain.”
- Educate yourself about the pervasiveness, causes, symptoms, and treatment of mental Illness, as well as ways to help families affected by brain disorders.
- Know when to refer persons to more knowledgeable mental health professionals—have list of names, meetings, resources such as organizations, books, and handouts.
- Gather together a few interested members (mentally ill persons, their families, and other members), and mental health professionals– to develop plans for starting and implementing a mental illness focus in your church/temple. Then…delegate responsibilities.
- Teach your congregation and especially your leaders what you’ve learned about the needs of mentally ill persons and their families.
- Give your leaders and congregation a vision and strategy for reaching mentally ill church/temple members and your community.
- Delegate responsibilities (95% of them) —Most clergy too busy to handle most of the responsibilities of this new ministry … so… delegate. Encourage your laypersons to carry the ball while you become primarily the “face man” for up front, public leadership.
- Use your position to:
- Preach sermons on mental illness.
- Use personal testimonies In worship, special classes, and other venues.
- Have your church/temple sponsor a mental illness seminar, workshop, conference, and/or a support group for family members and/or individuals affected by mental disorders.
- Have your laypersons provide quality resources for mentally ill individuals and family members and their friends: booklets, articles, books, CD’s, support meetings for family members and individuals, organizations that help persons and families to deal with and recover from mental conditions.
- Ask your Leadership Board to include money in the budget for: literature, speakers, scholarships to mental illness conferences, emergency counseling, and other needs.
- Laugh a lot! Enjoy the fruits of your labors. Go golfing an extra day a month with the extra time you’ll have— because your laypersons will have built an effective, on-going, in-reach and outreach ministry that will be strengthening and expanding your church/temple … and will have taken a load of tasks off your shoulders!