Church ‘must show distinctive approach’ to mental-health issues

07 July 2017

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THE Church must develop a dis­tinctively Christian approach to help­­ing the one in four people in the UK who have mental-health prob­lems, a report from the think tank Theos suggests.

The report, Christianity and Mental Health: Theology, activities, potential calls for a reappraisal of the way the Bible is used to approach mental illness, moving away from explicit accounts of mental illness, such as the madness of Nebuchad­nezzar, and from accounts of de­­monic possession. Instead, it sug­gests reflecting on the language of the Psalms, which are more in tune with contemporary language about depression and anxiety.

The booming “exorcism industry” in the UK — attributed partly to the growth in Pentecostal Churches — must also be addressed, because it runs the risk of “spiritual abuse”, the report warns.

Christian groups should also avoid “over-spiritualising” mental illness, which can encourage suf­ferers to seek spiritual rather than medical help.

It says: “Jesus’ command was to heal the sick and to cast out demons. The two are not synonymous. Just as for physical ailments we recommend seeking medical assistance, so it must be for mental illness. This is not to discount the possibility of demonic attacks, but it is to apply caution, in order to ensure that we are best looking after the needs of sufferers. One of the frustrations of medical professionals with Chris­tians comes from accounts and anec­dotes of people with medical-health issues going off their medication because they’ve been told that prayer is enough, and relapsing as a result. This is a classic example of well-meaning initiative with the potential for serious harm.”

The report cites the good work of Christian projects in mental health, and growing evidence that religious belief helps build people’s resilience and well-being. But it also expresses concern over the mental health
of clergy, and the impact on lesbian and gay Christians of attending churches that refuse to accept or acknowledge their sexuality.

The author of the report, Ben Ryan, said that the report should be seen as an initial study, and that more work was needed. He spoke with 15 Christian experts and prac­titioners in the field of mental health before drawing his conclusions.

He said: “There is a huge scope of work being done in this area. How­ever, much of this work is poorly networked and supported. The churches nationally have been campaigning, but at a grass-roots level there is little sense of an overall strategy or system for connecting and resourcing activities, or of sharing best practice.”

Christianity and Mental Health: Theology, activities, potential is available to read at www.theosthinktank.co.uk.

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