Plenty of people in distress come to Christian spaces—and not only those who are religious themselves. What can the church do?by Ben Ryan / July 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
For some time now mental health has been an increasing priority for Christian groups in the UK. At a national level a string of bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have spoken out on the challenges of mental health and called for more government support.
As part of the research for a new Theos think tank report Christianity and Mental Health: Theology, Activities, Potential we have also explored many activities undertaken by Christians in this space, ranging from chaplaincy within mental health trusts, to suicide prevention charities, and from small local volunteer projects to major national operations.
But for all this Christian involvement and interest, is there actually a Christian theology for mental health? That might sound irrelevant, but in fact it is of paramount importance in making sure that Christian involvement in this sector is both authentic and effective.
People (and they are by no means always Christian) often go to seek help from churches when in distress. One interviewee described the role of a priest or pastor as being “like the thick of the wedge”” it isn’t just the light or minor stuff that they are being confronted with, but people coming in off the street with very severe mental health needs. Unless Christians are confident in their understanding and approach to these issues there are real dangers in that position. The wrong advice can be very harmful.
The evidence suggests that mental health is becoming a more prevalent issue in British society (one in four adults will be diagnosed with a mental health issue in their lifetime), and there is little hope that medical services will be increased sufficiently to meet all these needs. Civil society bodies are only going to become more important in supporting those with mental illness, it is critical that they understand the ground on which they are standing.
More specifically, for Christians suffering from mental illness, a persistent challenge is finding the language to discuss their issues within a Christian context. This is a notoriously difficult process for mental health sufferers generally, as it is difficult to describe the experience of mental illness to those who have never shared the same experience. But for Christians seeking help within their own tradition, there has been a sense…