Many of us know Rick Warren as the founding pastor at Saddleback church, author of “Purpose Driven Life,” and now the leader for a new initiative to help treat those with mental illness. Working with his local Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), his mission is to increase the awareness and remove the stigma that mental illness has in our churches and society at large.
Some might ask why work to raise awareness in churches about mental illness? Most people aren’t aware that “one in four adults or approximately 61.5 million Americans experience mental illness in a given year. One in 17, about 13.6 million, live with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder” (According to NAMI). Consequently, we can see that there is an enormous need to not only help with awareness but also the treatment of mental illness. Economic barriers, fears about medication and what others might think are a few reasons it might be difficult for people with mental illness to seek help.
Why the Church?
“More than 40 percent of Americans say that they attend church nearly every week” (according to New York Times). With that number 40% of Americans attending church, one of four church members suffer with a mental illness. People go to church to worship, to learn more about faith, fellowship with others and for help. Most Christians will go to church for help before, they seek out help from a mental health professional. This initiative certainly seems like an effective way to reach people who are coming to church anyway, and could receive help from people they already trust. Pastor Warren and his wife Kay have found success with this sort of grassroots initiative before with their HIV/AIDS initiative in Africa which involved training church members to deliver care. They plan to do something similar now: to set up groups within churches to deal with mental illness crises, treatment, and ongoing care for those with severe mental illness.
I once heard a pastor say that more people will come see you in the hospital if you have a physical illness vs. a mental illness. After you get out of hospital more people will check up on you if you have a physical illness. We need to help people understand that a person who has depression is no different than a person who has diabetes. Medication and help is available to treat the problem.
In Matthew 9:1-2 (NIV) we see love, friendship, and support for the man who as an illness. “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” We see in the scripture that the man lying on the mat was paralyzed and cannot do anything about it. Men carried him and didn’t walk away from him because of his illness. Rather, they embraced the man’s illness and carried him to help. Can this same concept of helping people with mental illness be used today?
The Warrens are making it their mission to bring those with mental illness out from the shadows and show them a path to treatment and a healthy life.