First Person

December 01, 2014


"When I was diagnosed with depression, I felt as though I finally understood why I felt alone," said one man, after seeking help through his doctor. "However," he continued, "I still was afraid of telling anyone in my church about my condition because of the fear of being ostracized, which made my depression even more desperate."

This story is one that could be told throughout the Southern Baptist Convention - people with non-severe mental health issues who are unsure of their ability to tell someone in their church about their condition.

What makes this story even more alarming is that he is the pastor.

One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental issue in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance, but they're unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.

SBC entities are highlighting the importance of mental health ministry in response to a motion at the 2013 annual meeting, which prompted Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president, to name an advisory group to gather suggestions about ways Southern Baptists can more effectively minister to people with mental health challenges.

Members of the Mental Health Advisory Group (MHAG) include pastors, licensed counselors, healthcare providers, educators, social workers and a military chaplain. They represent churches, private practices, parachurch ministries, state conventions and national SBC entities. Many members of the group have dealt with mental health challenges within their own families in addition to their professional experience.

The intent of MHAG is to determine what, if anything, is being done in our SBC churches to address the stigma of mental illness within our congregations. Is the local church open to someone simply mentioning they have experienced an issue with anxiety or depression recently without any repercussions?

MHAG has set up a survey that asks five questions to determine the extent of ministries focusing on mental health within the SBC. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/83ST2KR.

Results will be used to explore innovative ways in which churches can address this increasingly prevalent issue with an eye toward awareness, not treatment, at the local church level.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing issues with mental illness, there is hope. A recent study revealed that someone with non-severe mental health issues can mitigate their symptoms by getting engaged with healthy relationships. For every healthy relationship, medication can be lowered by one milligram.

In his book, "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a group that migrates from Italy to Pennsylvania - it deals with why these people lived healthier lives than those around them. Was it genealogy? Environment?

It turns out the reason for the amazing findings of virtually zero heart disease in people 55 and younger, and the death rate from heart disease half that of the United States as a whole, was this startling fact: the people of Roseto, Pennsylvania enjoyed healthy relationships!

We have the same opportunity in our churches - to create healthy relationships! Christ calls us to be in a healthy relationship with Him, and create healthy relationships in our homes and churches.

(Sartain is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hughson and a member of MHAG.

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.