There's been a lot of discussion lately about the topic of mental illness and what the church needs to do and can do. Adrian Warnock has written extensively about it lately, and asked me to write a post with my thoughts.
Like many others, I don't think that the topic of mental illness has ever been addressed in a sermon. Obviously, I don't remember every sermon I have ever heard, but I just don't think it has been a topic. There are probably some good reasons for this, one being that there are some things pastors are not qualified to talk about. If a person has little knowledge and no expertise in an area, it's better to let someone else do the educating.
I remember the church I attended for the longest period of time as an adult had a counseling center. This was run by an actual psychologist (if I remember correctly), not a pastor who'd just had a counseling class or two in seminary. While I never thought much about it while I was there, what this told me is that this particular church understood the need for mental health services and understood that there are people specifically trained to provide those services.
In the church I currently attend, there's a pastor who has a degree/background in marriage/family counseling, and while he will offer pastoral care, if it is anything serious, he will refer people to professionals.
Unfortunately, in many churches, this may not be the case. Too often, mental health issues are seen as only spiritual problems that will go away if one just prays hard enough.
I don't know why it is so difficult to see mental illness as an illness. My friend Adrienne, who has a young son who has had numerous problems with mental illness, explained one time that it's so easy for us to understand and seek treatment for any other illness. We understand when we are physically sick. We take medications. We have surgeries. The physical aspect of our bodies is seen as something that can be broken and can be treated. Why then, she asked, do we not think the same thing can happen to our brains?
That put it in perspective for me. Our brains are as much of a part of our bodies as anything else, and if something can go wrong physically, something can also go wrong mentally.
I would encourage anyone reading this to look at it like that. It will go a long way in understanding the suffering a person may be experiencing, and if we encourage people to seek treatment for physical illnesses, we must encourage them to seek treatment for mental illnesses as well.