by Rev. Sara Lewis
The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to combat stigma, raise awareness, and take action and advocate to improve our nation’s mental health care system. In thinking about mental health this month, I’m reminded again of the ways that our spiritual journeys and religious communities relate to our mental health. A spiritual practice and a supportive and loving religious community can be a huge benefit to our mental health. But unfortunately, at times, the culture of spiritual practice and religious community have undermined people’s mental health or made it harder for them to seek out the care they needed.
One manifestation of the negative interaction between some churches and people with mental health challenges is detailed in the book Mental Health and the Church by Stephen Grcevich, MD as the idea that faith should heal. That idea leads to the notion that if someone is not healed they are suffering from a “lack of faith”. If a person just had more faith, essentially if they leaned more on their relationship with their higher power, they would be healed.
It’s very likely that most of you reading this will think that the previous idea is wrong. But what about the idea that if a person leans into spiritual practice or mindfulness more that they “should” be able to heal themselves? Perhaps you’ve seen the Tshirts that say “Heavily Meditated”, for instance, which I interpret as a subtle (or not so subtle) dig at people who are “heavily medicated”. Is there possibly a way that we each fall into the notion that if only people would do what we have found works for us, that they “should” be able to overcome mental health challenges?
Faith, community, spiritual practice, physical exercise, and nature all have been found to be beneficial for our mental health. Yes, let’s lean into those things for ourselves and find ways to make them accessible for others!
But,let us also support a full and holistic mental health care system that includes therapy, in-patient treatment, medication, and more. In my life, as a person who has struggled with eating disorders, depression, and generalized anxiety, I have found growth and healing in spiritual practice and I’ve needed mental health care. I’ve been fortunate to be able to afford care and to have my health insurance include mental health care. Not everyone can access this care, though, and that is something that needs to change.
Together, let us lean into a world that supports mental (and physical and social and spiritual) health for us all. May it be so.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out for help. Here’s a place to start,
- Thurston County Crisis Clinic: 360-586-2800
- Teen/Youth Help Line: (360) 586-2777
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
- Teen Link, chat link available at Home – Teen Link
And our community is here to help, as well. “Pastoral Care” is the term we use for the ways that we as a community, both lay and ordained ministers, care for the social, emotional, and spiritual well-being of one another. It is distinct and separate from mental health care, but can be complimentary. To learn more about pastoral care at OUUC: Getting and Giving help in a Time of Need (ouuc.org)
Resources to Explore for Advocacy and Action: