Addressing the whole person
Addressing the whole person
7 October 2019
The following article is a personal account of the writer’s own struggle with mental health issues.
It’s been 15 years since I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. In that time I have seen the best and worst of the Church as it tries to grapple with an illness that is so often hidden.
These experiences have taught me a valuable lesson: that one of the gifts we can give to those living with mental illness is to see them as whole people.
They are more than just their mental illness; they are people who are able to give and receive in community. This is a way we can offer them the space to fully experience the love of Jesus. is means we must hold together the physical, spiritual and community needs of every individual, irrespective of their diagnosis, the scars on their arms or how awkward we feel.
When we fail to do this, we can unwittingly perpetuate their illness and enforce a belief that they are separated from God.
Our physical needs encompass our overall wellbeing. Mental illness is intrinsically connected to physical health. There’s stigma that taking medication or receiving counselling means you don’t have enough faith in God.
This is simply not true. In fact, God can use these resources to bring us healing. So offer to take your friend to the doctor.
This provides them with a diagnosis, and allows them access to services that will put them on a unique path to recovery. If all else fails, give your friend the number for Lifeline.
I know how it feels to pray for healing and not receive it. It is really difficult when you feel others imply that you lack faith if you experience mental illness or aren’t miraculously healed.
A more compassionate response involves listening to a person before praying for them. Take a personal approach and a affirm the courage an individual has shown in asking for help.
Pray for peace and healing, and ask how you can support them.
Irrespective of our mental health, we all need to know we belong, are safe and are valued.
Your church can become this community for people living with mental illness, by showing up for them. We must change our mindset that sees them as ‘attention seekers’ or ‘too needy’, and instead see the unique plans and purposes God has for them.
As a church community, this change of mindset might mean we need to change how we speak to respect their needs, just as we change the physical layout of our church buildings to accommodate people of different abilities.
It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about acknowledging that a person’s mental health can be fragile. On a personal level, this means being a friend to those who feel friendless or are unable to maintain friendships well.
Send a text and invite them to events. Offer to take them out for coffee. Remember, a person who is experiencing mental illness won’t always show up or even respond, but your consistency is the key.
Friendship with anyone is not a ‘project’ or a ‘ministry’. Friendship is a two-way relationship – we give and receive from each other. When they struggle to give to you, your friendship shows them that you still care about them and that God hasn’t forgotten them.
There is freedom when we learn that a person experiencing mental illness requires infinitely more than what we or the Church can provide.
As a pastor, congregant or volunteer, it is hard not to feel you want to fix someone struggling with mental health. But it’s not your responsibility to heal them.
Instead, it is our responsibility to see the person as a whole being, and honour this by moving towards them consistently in authentic friendship, to stand with them in the midst of the mess and to connect them to the resources that will support them in their journey.
Jessica Morris is a staff writer for Others and author of When Hope Speaks - available at Salvation Army book departments.
24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention phone counselling and online chat. 13 11 14 lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue Support Service
Brief counselling, advice and referral 24/7 phone support; 3pm-12am (AEST) online chat; email response within 24 hours. 1300 22 4636 beyondblue.org.au/getsupport
Online chat, email and phone counselling for people aged 12-25 (9am-1am AEST)
1800 650 890 headspace.org.au/eheadspace/
Head to Health
Head to Health can help you nd free and low-cost, trusted online and phone mental health resources. headtohealth.gov.au