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
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
groups for family members are wonderful, and education experiences are informative. However, they pale in the face of a good
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
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.
1. 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 human need.
Since January 19, 2004
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