Many people with mental
health problems first turn to clergy. It is easy to focus ministry upon the family member who is ill and ignore the ministry
needs of their family. What is the church’s ministry to families of the mentally ill?
Extreme exhaustion is a
frequent trait of family members. It is seen in their no longer being able to keep their house in order. “Why
not?” They were doing all they could to just hold the family together.
Jesus calls us to help the
family of a mentally ill person with Christ like attitudes. Don’t go to observe, criticize, and spread gossip. Sometimes
people who go to ‘help’ make critical statements and thoughtlessly throw away things. Put yourself in the family
member’s shoes before throwing away things. If you are not sure, leave it and just straighten things up.
Look for signs of depression
in family members. They often deceive themselves about being in better contact with the problems of their loved one than is
realistic. Do they experience difficulty in focused thinking? Do they behave as individuals? Do they say they have no right
to take care of their own needs? Do they recite the same handful of horrifying stories?
Do they entertain ideas
like, “I should change careers for my family member’s health?” Such unrealistic thinking comes from the
F.O.G. (Fear-Obligation-Guilt) created by their enmeshment with the loved one’s mental problems.
Support groups for family
members are wonderful, and education experiences are informative. However, they pale in the face of a good therapist.
Therapy deals with the roots
of their depression. They will recognize their enmeshment, and see the pitfalls of their victim mentality. They will live
more fully in the now by taking responsibility for their own life and tending to their own needs. Very few pastors have the
time or the training to do such in depth counseling. Neither should pastors be expected to.
Not all families impacted
by mental illness hold together. Some mentally ill persons abandon their family or commit suicide. Divorce occurs when the
spouse finds themselves drowning is their spouse’s mental illness. Such sad outcomes seem to occur regardless of the
support network, well-developed boundaries, or their relationship to the church. Instead of simplistic counsel or legalistic
judgments, these families need extreme compassion.
The families who fall apart
carry mammoth loads of emotions like failure, shame, self-inflicted guilt, ‘the what ifs, ’
and deep hurt. Clergy and church members only add to the intensity of this load when they abandon and act in other unChristian
ways toward these families and their mentally ill loved one.
Here are two more goals
for clergy and churches in response to this need.
Recognize the interrelationship of medical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of those who suffer from mental illness
and those who are close to them.
2. Have special Sunday’s
to lift up the church’s ministry to the mentally ill and their families. Include the mentally ill and their families
in pastoral prayers. Preach sermons and conduct special classes to instruct people in a Christian response to this painful
January 19, 2004 this page has been visited.