Why Not Accepting or Believing in Mental Health in the Church can be Deadly

Photo by Sirisvisual on Unsplash

Recently, I was able to reconnect through happenstance to a person I knew from my old church community. We tentatively asked questions until we were able to conclude that neither of us were involved in church culture anymore, and with a deep sigh of relief, we truly began to talk. Her first question after determining I was no longer a part of the church community? “Allison, were we in a cult?? I think we may have been in a cult?!” And my reply? “I honestly have no idea, but maybe?!” And then she regaled me with this (truly horrific) personal story of something that happened during our time there.

The church I was previously a member of also runs a ministry school where people can attend and learn more about the supernatural and about their worth, blah blah biased continuum…

This in particular person I ran into had been a student in this school, and during that part of her life she had been experiencing deep depression, a feeling that was not new to her in past seasons, but was new in the context of she was attending a school which basically said if you’re depressed, it’s on you in some way. She had reached the point where she was feeling suicidal to the point of having a plan and just KNEW that she had to reach out and get help or else she wasn’t sure if she would make it. She was devastated and afraid and finally decided on a leader that she trusted and whom felt safe to her that she could confide in and find help from. Broken, she confessed how she was feeling and told this leader she was suicidal. And do you know what this woman said in return? “You are not suicidal or depressed, you just have a rebellious spirit and need to repent.” Ya’ll. When I say hearing this made my blood boil!! And yet, my boyfriend and I looked at each other, sighed, and said this isn’t the first time this has happened, but I am so glad that you are here today and were able to get the help you need from a professional.

Then we recounted the other story we know from this happening. We had another friend who was bipolar, he had a severe diagnostic case in that he could become catatonic and his mania could be self-destructive at times. He was on medication and receiving professional help and hadn’t had an episode in a long time. He had recently gotten married and was feeling relatively healthy and was very involved in our church. So the church decided, you know what? We know best! Let’s fuck this guy up with our theology! And thus encouraged him to go off his medication, he was doing so well, and did it really have anything to do with the meds? Nah, it was JESUS! So, why doesn’t he just get off the medication and let Jesus continue to do his thing? And for a while, he still didn’t, he was skeptical and he stayed on his medication, but through consistent teaching (brainwashing) from the church community, he finally decided to go off his medication. Mania and panic ensued and he stepped in front of a semi on a busy street. He didn’t make it.

These two stories are so similar but have such different outcomes. One person is healing and getting the help she needs, on helpful medication, receiving therapy and having a loving professional medical team on her side, she is making strides in her health journey and recovery. One died; a newlywed, musician, brother, son, friend.

The church not believing in or supporting mental health issues CAN be deadly, and that needs to be taken seriously. Leaders must be held accountable for this dangerous theology and recognition must be paid to mental health as being a genuine concern, without the stigma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation, please, get REAL help. Call 1–800–273–8255. Find a therapist and trusted friend. Set an appointment with a psychologist and see if medication is right for you. You are not alone.

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Writer. Social Worker. Massage Therapist/Healer.

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Allison Walther

Allison Walther

Writer. Social Worker. Massage Therapist/Healer.

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