Many Churches Fail to Recognize Their Responsibility In Helping People With Mental Illness, Professor Says

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Churches need to prepare better to recognize signs of mental illness and minister to individuals with mental health issues and their families, the co-founders of a Waco-based organization told a Texas Baptist group.

Grace Alliance exists to serve as a bridge between professional mental health care and the church, creating support systems and educational opportunities for families and communities of faith. Matt Stanford, co-founder of the alliance and professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedicine at Baylor University, reported 61.5 million Americans—more than 13 percent of the population—suffer from some form of serious mental illness.

Unfortunately, he said, many churches are unprepared to handle individuals with these disorders and miss opportunities for significant ministry.

“The church has a foundational role in mental health recovery,” Stanford told a workshop held in conjunction with the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting. Unfortunately, few churches recognize their responsibility, and others feel ill-equipped to help people with mental health problems.

Even so, the church stands as one of the first lines of support for individuals with mental health issues. As Stanford explained, people in psychological distress often first approach clergy.

Pastors Have Role as Gatekeepers
Grace Alliance seeks to help ministers understand their role as gatekeepers, which involves not only facilitating access to professionals who can diagnose and treat problems, but also ensuring individuals feel fully accepted in the church.

“We need to treat these people the same way we treat anyone who is suffering,” Stanford said. “As a people of God, we are supposed to relieve suffering where we can, we are to reveal Christ, and we are to restore lives by walking along with them as their lives are restored through a relationship with God and being that supportive community.”

Grace Alliance co-founder Jay Padilla suggested the church focus on three pillars of mental health recovery support.

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SOURCE: Baptist Standard
Blake Killingsworth

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