The church, as God's outpost on earth for His Kingdom, is "uniquely equipped to care for people struggling with mental illness," says Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
In one of his commentary posts on Christian worldviews published on The Christian Post, Dr. Graham argues that followers of Jesus "are tasked with not only caring deeply about the spiritual health of others, but their mental, emotional and physical health as well, for they are all tied together."
With the rise of mental health related issues leading to suicides- the second leading cause of deaths among young adults in the United States, Dr. Jack Graham said that it's time for churches to "respond to this crisis in a new way."
Traditionally labeled as a "taboo" topic in most conservative churches, Dr. Graham feels that churches have been complicit to the stigmatization of mental illnesses.
"I'm heartbroken to say many people who have sought help and hope within the church have been turned away, shamed or told - sometimes by well-meaning pastors or lay counselors - they just need to "pray harder" or "have more faith," he said.
According to the 2019 survey by Lifeway Research, 49 % of pastors "rarely or never speak to their church in sermons or large group settings about acute mental illness." Dr. Graham believes that one possible factor is the way baby boomers like him were taught concerning anxiety or depression.
"We were raised to believe that if you are a follower of Jesus, you're not supposed to struggle with mental health, depression or anxiety," said Dr. Graham.
"I remember thinking this way when I was a young Christian, and it took several painful experiences over the course of my life for me to grasp what it's like to struggle with mental health," he continued then recounted his personal story of depression.
Knowing first hand how depression, if not dealt properly, can lead to self harm and other ugly consequences, Dr. Graham pressed the issue as something that should no longer be ignored by church leaders.
"I believe the church's failure lies not in ill intention but largely in misinformation and lack of proper training," he explained
"While there is a spiritual aspect to mental health that churches and pastors can and should address, we often have missed the clinical reality of mental health," added the author of "Unseen," a book describing spiritual realities.
Dr. Graham believes that the church has "the potential to change the tide of the mental illness epidemic" by simply starting to talk about it as a real crisis and that Christians, especially leaders, be willing to be equipped so they could provide practical help.
While prescribed medications could possibly be part of the equation, the host of PowerPoint Ministries cited examples of faith-based approaches used by mental health professionals.
"Many of the Bible's teachings - such as forgiving those who have wronged us, recognizing the inherent value of every human life and giving thanks for the blessings we have - are used by professional counselors to help people cope with and overcome depression and anxiety," said Dr. Graham in his encouragement for churches to take a proactive role in the issue of mental health.
"We the church can no longer stand on the sidelines while people are suffering and hurting. We must step up and step in to end this critical cycle, before it's too late," he concluded.
At present, Dr. Graham and his church at Prestonwood has started Life Recovery Ministry: a program to help people cope and heal from emotional, physical, relational and spiritual wounds caused by illness, addiction and abuse.
They also host conferences open for in-person or online attendance where they address common "mental health stigma, domestic abuse, sexual healing and more."