"It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's
no shame and stigma to it, but if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret. If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?”
Following the April 2013 suicide of his 27-year-old son, Matthew, Rick Warren told Christianity Today of his new purpose for the 20,000-member Saddleback Church: removing the stigma of mental illness from churches. "It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's no shame and stigma to it, but if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret. ... If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?" he said.
Following Matthew Warren's tragic death, a number of other evangelical leaders were also prompted to talk about ways that churches can better help those dealing with mental illness in their congregations. Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, said he wanted to see more churches discuss mental illness openly. "We need to stop hiding mental illness," Stetzer said. He noted that some Christians think if they pray enough or become more spiritual, then their mental illness will go away, but they don't look at other health issues the same way. "People who become a Christian and have a broken leg will still have a broken leg," he said. "We tend to think that Jesus fixes what is in our heads, and medicine fixes what is in our body. Sometimes what is in our heads needs medicine."
Perhaps pastors and churches are hearing this message and change is happening. One indicator is GetReligion.org’s article from last Saturday, which speaks glowingly of a New York Times article by Jan Hoffman reporting of the increase of evangelicals who address mental illness. This much-needed new direction is hopefully a positive trend in the way churches welcome those struggling with mental illness. The Rev. Bill Ritter, author of Take the Dimness of My Soul Away: Healing After a Loved One's Suicide, said that people affected by mental illness often steer clear of church. Some feel ashamed and others are just overwhelmed. "For as much as we talk about the church as the place you turn when life is falling apart -- the reality is that people often stay away from church when life is falling apart."
Your turn: How have you seen churches deal with mental illness, depression, and suicide? Why not equip yourself to be part of the solution? Find more related articles at Crosswalk’s special coverage channel on depression and mental illness.