As we observe World Mental Health Day, the Church has great influence and a key role to play in advancing mental health support for those struggling. By setting aside flawed ideologies and showing God’s compassion, we can demonstrate the power of His transformative love.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health issues are on the rise among the global population.1 Depression, anxiety, suicidal inclinations and substance abuse are some of the mental health-related issues prevalent today, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
In June 2022, WHO launched the World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all to shed light on the increased needs and widening gaps brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For example, estimates put the rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders at more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. At the same time, mental health services have been severely disrupted and the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened.”World Mental Health Report 2022, WHO2
In a struggling, depressed and anxious world, the Church has an incredible opportunity to share God’s love and minister to a hurting world crying out for answers. The question is, are we?
In the Church, there is a prevailing stigma against mental health conditions
Mental health covers a wide spectrum, and for some, it’s manageable without professional support. For others, however, it is simply too much for a person to work through on their own.
But attitudes from the Church have not always been kind, resulting in those struggling withdrawing and not seeking help from other Christians or the church.4
Centre for Disability Ministry in Asia director Leow Wen Pin spoke of two incorrect attitudes within Christian circles when approaching mental illness: that it is caused by demonic oppression, or a result of sin or lack of faith.5
“Mental illness…can have many causes: an individual’s life choices, their fallen biology, unfortunate circumstances, alienating communities and social structures, or even a combination thereof.”Leow Wen Pin5
In conversation, these attitudes can sound like these statements:
- “You need to be stronger. Trust Jesus more!”
- “This is a demonic attack. Let’s pray for you.”
- “It’s a test from God. Just keep the faith and you’ll be fine.”
- “What door of sin have you opened?”
These statements can be unhelpful for any Christian struggling to make sense of their mental health while desperately trying to hold onto their faith.
In 2021, Poh Yoke Lo shared a personal experience of hearing a Christian leader disparage those suffering from depression.6
“A Christian leader once remarked in my presence, “I do not understand people who are depressed. They should just snap out of it.” Wow. That really cut deep. I never dared to share my own battles with depression thereafter. I felt that as a Christian, there must have been something wrong with me.”Poh Yoke Lo6
What is the role of the Church in mental health?
It is undeniable that the Church has made steps forward in understanding mental health and providing the right support for Christians struggling. However, there is still some way to go.
Graceworks director Dr Tan Soo Inn, who had depression for a time, cautioned the church to refrain from approaching mental illness with a one-size-fits-all approach or that all types can be healed with the “usual spiritual disciplines”.
“There is no spiritual or medical silver bullet that can cure a person of mental illness effectively and quickly. Each person and each condition are different.”Dr Tan Soo Inn, Graceworks5
In Malaysia, the National Association of Christian Counsellors is playing a part in supporting Christians facing mental illness. There are also churches offering counselling and psychological support, but not many have trained counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists available.
The Church can adopt a holistic approach towards those struggling by offering support physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally and vocationally, says Tan.5 When these needs are met, healing is possible.
I’m struggling today. Where can I find Christ-centred support?
Remember that God loves you and is with you. “We have a personal Saviour who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ,” shares mental health advocate Lieryn Barnett.7
“He weeps with you, as He wept with Lazarus’s family. He knew the resurrecting work He was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, He knows how He is going to work in and through your life, and He is with you in the midst of it.”Lieryn Barnett7
If you are a Malaysian Christian struggling with mental health, facing depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse or just needing someone to talk to, here are some channels you can reach out to:
- The National Association of Christian Counsellors – click here
- Archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry – click here
- Georgetown Baptist Church’s CareNet ministry – click here
- Life Journey Centre – click here
- Agape Counselling Centre – click here
- Eirini Counselling Services by Every Nation Church – click here
- TMC Oasis Centre by Trinity Methodist Church – click here
- CLM Counselling and Care by Calvary Life Ministries – click here
1. Mental Health, World Health Organisation
2. World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all. Executive summary. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
3. Lim I, 2021, The Covid-19 mental toll on Malaysia: Over 37,000 calls to help hotlines, Malay Mail
4. The stigma around mental illness for Christians, 2018, Geneva College
5. Ng D, Mental Health and the Church, CRU Singapore
6. Lo PY, 2021, The Church and Mental Health, Blog, Georgetown Baptist Church
7. Barnett, L 2019, 4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness, The Gospel Coalition
8. Cover Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash