Ministry, Mental Illness, and Communities of Faith

Religious communities are in a unique position to combat stigma and provide a message of acceptance and hope

Serious mental illnesses are diseases of the brain that cause disturbances in a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. They can diminish a person's capacity for coping with the regular demands of ordinary life and can place tremendous burdens on family members and loved ones.

Unfortunately, both ignorance and fear continue to play leading roles in perpetuating the stigma that those with these no-fault brain disorders face. This stigma leads to underfunding of government programs for public mental health services, discrimination by insurance companies, lack of appropriate housing and employment options, and pervasive media portrayals of persons with mental illnesses as violent, dangerous, or hopeless.

And yet, mental illnesses do not discriminate. These disorders affect people of every race, ethnic heritage, gender, language, age, and religious orientation. According to the U.S Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), at any given moment more than 48 million Americans are suffering from a "diagnosable" mental illness, and 11 million are suffering from a "severe" mental illness.

Persons with mental illnesses are our neighbors, our coworkers, our siblings, our friends. They are even members of our churches, synagogues, and other faith communities.

Religious communities are in a unique position to combat stigma and provide a message of acceptance and hope. Proclaiming the values of social justice, respect for all persons, and non-discrimination, faith communities can reach out to individuals and families affected by mental illness in many helpful ways. Sharing the message that all persons are worthy in the eyes of God, a faith community may be the only place where a person with a mental illness truly feels accepted, valued, and loved.

For people who find no other welcome in the larger community, being welcomed in a house of prayer by a concerned and caring community can make a critical difference for consumers with mental illnesses and their families. Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship can spread the message that serious mental illnesses are "diseases of the brain" and help families understand that "it's not their fault." They can open their doors and their hearts to consumers and be a supportive presence in their on-going recovery.

Outreach ideas for your community of faith:

Further Resources:

Updated August 2005