Mental health has been in the news as of late. It’s been a hot topic issue with a variety of people from everyday people to celebrities. Mental health is labeled in different tiers. You have mood disorders such as depression, bi-polar disorder, etc. Then you have personality disorders such as border line personality disorder. Then you have behavioral issues such as ADHD and the like. Many places such as Pine Rest in west Michigan are behavioral health facilities dealing with mental health mood disorders, personality disorders and behavioral issues along with addiction issues. All of these are part and parcel of behavioral health.
As a pastor, I’ve ministered to a variety of people who run this gamut of mental and behavioral health. I’ve worked with people who deal with depression (I say “deal” not suffer or struggle because many must deal with it rather than struggle through it). I have worked with people who are bi-polar and are not medicated. I myself am ADHD and know the effects it has on day-to-day life. So how do we deal with those who deal with mental/behavioral health?
Do nothing and listen. This sounds weird and cruel, but honestly sometimes this is the best thing you can do. As a pastor and as one who might minister to those with mental health issues, you need to create boundaries. Boundaries are limits you are willing to work with people. Boundaries have gates, you allow things in and you keep certain things out. When someone is going through a huge emotional situation due to a mental health issue our first reaction is to jump in and help. Don’t get on the emotional roller coaster. Do nothing and stand to the side. Be there. Be present with them. Be willing to listen. But don’t get on the emotional roller coaster. Do nothing.
Walk with them. We read in Psalm 23 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Our savior walks with us. And as pastors, our job is to walk with others. Walk with them through these dark valleys. Walk with them through it. Help them along the way as they deal with their depression, with mania, with ADHD. Walk with them through the trials that they will go through.
Be an advocate. Many people have family members who deal with mental health issues. Their family members need an advocate, one who understands and is willing to walk with the family member. But more than that, to be willing to help the family understand and be a support to their loved one who is going through a depressive episode. Be willing to speak on behalf of someone who is dealing with mental health issues. Be willing to speak on their behalf in a loving way.
Refer. Unless you are a trained counselor in psychotherapy don’t do counseling. Instead, be willing and ready to refer those with mental health issues to those who are better qualified to assist them. If they’re already working with a behavioral health specialist or counselor, be a support but let them do their work as you do yours. You can’t do it all. Work with others. If you have Stephen Ministries, be willing to refer a Stephen Minister to help as well. But don’t be afraid to refer.
It’s hard to do ministry with those with mental health issues. It can take a lot out of you. But it’s important to remember that there is a need to be Christ to all who are hurting and in need of healing. Mental health issues don’t just go away. They’re not what I’d call a “casserole disease,” where you can bring a casserole and in two weeks someone is feeling better. It’s a lifelong issue that requires you to continue to minister with loving patience and to be Christ to someone in need.