Parish Nursing – Mental Health

People attend church for many reasons: to worship God and to learn about Jesus, to fellowship, to attend social events, to have a feeling of belonging, and to some because it is the rock in their lives to which they cling. Most attend church for all of these reasons. This is why we must be there for each other, providing love, compassion, patience, understanding and a continual reminder of God’s powerful love for us. This person-to-person caring needs to extend even more to those who struggle with mental illness.

One in every five Americans experience a mental disorder in any given year, and half of all Americans have such disorders at some time in their lives. These illnesses of the brain affect all of us, regardless of age, gender, economic status or ethnicity. Nearly every person sitting in the pews has been touched in some way by mental illness. However, many suffer in silence or stop coming to church because they do not receive the support they so desperately need. They become detached from their Christian family and their spirituality, which is an important source of healing, wholeness and hope in times of their bewildering and frustrating struggles.

Anxiety disorder is one type of mental health disorder. It can include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias such as social phobia and agoraphobia (fear of being in a crowd). The person’s brain is unable to properly produce and regulate two important neurotransmitters called GABA and serotonin. Basically, stress hormone levels become so elevated that the brain is unable to produce the proper amount of GABA and serotonin which tell the brain to “SLOW DOWN.” It is hard to identify the cause but genetics, life events, and stress all play a role. Unfortunately, anxiety gets worse over time as these chemicals become more and more depleted. Remember it doesn’t work to get upset with these people and tell them to “calm down” or try a gluten-free diet, or stop being afraid—because just like diabetics whose body cannot make or is unable to efficiently utilize insulin, people with a mental health disorder have a brain that is not functioning in a balanced way.

It is a privilege to love and serve those with mental health issues. Why? Because the mentally ill are the weak, fragile and vulnerable among God’s people, and we know that God has a special place in His heart for the weak, fragile, and vulnerable. It was prophesied of Jesus: A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus cares for the weak and we are privileged to care for those for whom He cares. Loving and trying to help the mentally ill has its challenges, certainly. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to bring them back into reality, out of despondence, or beyond their irrational fears. This is why much love, patience, and understanding are needed. Such is the nature of mental illness. Yet, love endures all things, so keep on loving them, listening to them, encouraging them, and PRAYING for them. God’s love through you brings comfort and peace to help in their struggles and suffering.

Encourage those with mental illness to get help. At West Side we have established a relationship with Samaritan Center of Puget Sound (formerly Presbyterian Counseling Service) and have one of their Marriage and Family therapists, Heidi Gray, who will see people here at West Side. A person could also go to the Samaritan Center on Ravenna Boulevard.  West Side also has a list of local Christian therapists who have an office nearby. People with mental illness will benefit from educated mental health counselors and often from prescribed medication. Most of all, pray for these dear people, entrusting them to the Lord who made them, died for them, and loves them.

Marilyn Fleming
for the Parish Nurses

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