Sanctuaries for Mental Health

In the past, Christians have prioritized caring for the spirit and even the body but haven’t always known what to do with the mind. People of faith may stigmatize mental illness as resulting from sin, consequently encouraging church members to stay silent about their internal struggles and to sit in judgment on those who are unable to hide their illness. No one thinks to bring a casserole to someone experiencing a bout of depression, but moderate depression can be just as physically debilitating as a broken arm.

Yet those suffering from serious mental illness turn up at church doors at an alarming rate because of other needs that occur along with the illness. Faith communities of all shapes and sizes have the opportunity to act as safe spaces that are well-equipped with the knowledge and resources to promote mental health. Churches are beginning to educate their members and staff on how to reduce stigma surrounding mental health, how to promote awareness of issues like substance abuse and anxiety, and how to better serve those in the community while not forgetting those sitting in the pews.

One such example of this type of forward-thinking ministry occurred in the University United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina. The congregation decided to use the season of Lent as a time of reflection and discussion on the role that mental illness plays in the church. Utilizing the Stations of the Cross: Mental Illness art series created by Mary Button, the church opened its doors to the community, inviting them in to visit and view the 14 posters, which were each paired with a local resource working toward mental health justice in Durham.

By working within the seasons of the liturgical calendar, University UMC leveraged Lent—a naturally reflective time of year—to address the importance that mental health plays in the full spiritual wholeness of their church and community members’ lives. Creativity in health ministry provides a safe space for mental illness to be portrayed quite physically, emphasizing just how important it is to open up discussion about resources available to care for the sick—without distinction—as Jesus did.


Learn more about Stations of the Cross resource here>>

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