Name mental illness from the pulpit

Likely, many preachers will react negatively to the title of this article. This may be largely due to the uncomfortable nature of the biological disease “mental illness.” It also may be due to the idea of an outsider stating what should be done in the pulpit.

Likely, many preachers will react negatively to the title of this article.

I certainly understand the second perspective because I sometimes react negatively to being told what to do whether as an engineer or at home. Even though my words may be inadequate, I am trying to show the importance for pastors and churches to provide support and love to those who have experienced a mental illness.

Jesus ministered to people who experienced demons in their lives. Demons are not usually mentioned today, but people nonetheless need the support of pastors and congregations when dealing with mental illness in their lives and that of their families.

Primary image

I implore you to hear what I have to say. I not only have experienced mental illness in my own life but in the lives of family members and friends.

This distorts the understanding of the public.

The primary image from mass media of mental illness is associated with major violence. This distorts the understanding of the public into believing that mental illness is dangerous and those experiencing it should be locked up to protect other people. This distortion assumes that only a very small number of people has a mental illness. In truth, one in four families experiences mental illness and needs understanding and emotional support from pastors and congregations.

People who really care must take leadership in supporting the “99% plus” of people who struggle with mental illness day to day, but never make the news.

Leaders, who only speak about cancer at the time of death, strongly suggest that cancer leads directly to death. Why do people then only talk about mental illness at the time that violence occurs?

It is time that leaders, including pastors, clearly demonstrate caring understanding and support for those who have a mental illness. Sometimes it even appears that the general public is taking the lead rather than the churches on this matter.

The publicity on the struggle of Jesse Jackson Jr. to identify his mental illness is a better example of the nature of the affliction than can be seen for most individuals in churches.

Difficult to define

Indeed mental illness is difficult to define and even harder to treat. Selecting medications for a mental illness often must be done by trial and error to find what works.

Consequently, people need the support of family, friends, congregations and especially pastors during their time of healing. If pastors do not take the lead to open up the nature of mental illness to congregations and encourage personal support for those who need it, who will?

Pastors, please respond in positive ways to what I have tried to describe. You are in the best position to provide understanding, support and hope for those who have experienced a mental illness.

Editor's note: Leroy Pickett is a member of First United Methodist Church, Downers Grove, Ill.

Pastors called to address mental-health challenges

To help pastors better recognize the warning signs of mental illness and avoid potential crises in their congregations, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare held a free webinar, “Call to Clergy: How to Support Mental Health Challenges in Your Congregation” on Oct. 9, the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery & Understanding.

Pastors are often called upon to support people struggling with mental-health challenges

Though seldom trained about mental-health problems, pastors are often called upon to support people struggling with mental-health challenges. The webinar used “Mental Health First Aid,” a groundbreaking public education program, to help pastors recognize the warning signs of mental illness, avert or resolve crises and connect congregants to professional, peer and other appropriate help.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit association of nearly 2,000 organizations that provide treatment and rehabilitation for mental illnesses and addiction disorders to more than eight million adults, children and families in communities across the country. You can learn more at The National Council.

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