"Almost everybody in the pew has a broken heart for some reason or another." --Chaplain Glen Ryswyk, Assemblies of God mental health chaplain, in PE News article "Mental Health Matters."
With healthcare a key topic in political discussions, insurmountable medical bills a leading cause of bankruptcy, and health insurance a major factor in family budgets or job decisions, America is not a "well" nation. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 4 adults, or over 61 million Americans, experience mental illness in a given year. Based on currently available statistics, 39.6% of men and women--nearly 4 in 10--will be diagnosed with some type of cancer at some point in their lifetime. Chronic disease seems increasingly prevalent, with diabetes alone affecting over 8% of the U.S. population.
As people grapple with physical or mental illness, they may struggle spiritually as well, wondering why they haven't been healed, whether God really cares about them, or how they can continue to thrive spiritually while walking through illness. Practical questions about treatment options, lifestyle changes, or medical bills can consume the thoughts of the sufferer and caregivers, making it difficult to spend time in Bible study and prayer or attend church.
While the Bible is clear that Jesus provided for healing along with atonement for sin through his death on the cross, there are often no easy answers as to the method or timing in which healing will come. (See the Assemblies of God position paper on this topic.) However, Scripture is also clear that those facing illness can continue to function as followers of Christ. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul refers to a thorn in the flesh, interpreted by most scholars to mean some type of infirmity, in the context of the sufficiency of God's grace. The Bible also encourages the church to come alongside the sick with love and prayer (James 5). Toward that end, we seek to assemble a variety of resources for encouraging the chronically or terminally ill, supporting them as they seek to cure or cope, and welcoming them into the life of the church.
Check back often as resources are added! We welcome suggestions of resources you have found helpful.
Sudden onset of a disability or major illness is a serious, life-changing crisis. The 461 Response program, part of the Chaplaincy Department, connects churches with valuable critical incident training to create "caring communities" for such situations. Visit our "critical incident" and "persons with disabilities" topic pages for more information and additional resources.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a strong risk factor for suicide. Posting hotline numbers at your church, workplace, or youth gathering place may help remind someone that help is a phone call away:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)
- National Suicide Hotline 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
- Safe Alternative Info Line for self-injury 800-DONTCUT (366-8288)
Contact Chaplaincy Ministries for a speaker experienced in critical incident ministry, hospital ministry, mental health care, or hospice care.
Restoration Ministries, Rev. Valerie Saviano - equipping the Church to support those suffering from mental illness and emotional pain.
HIV/AIDS Initiative - From Saddleback Church: "Equipping the Church to Care for People Living with HIV & Aids" - Suggestions for increasing compassionate awareness and removing stigma, starting a support ministry, ways to provide practical help, and more.
Our Journey of Hope - Cancer Treatment Centers of America provides training for churches in cancer care ministry. Read one church's story of starting a ministry when several members were in need, here.
Is your church located in a neighborhood where chronic health issues, lack of transportation, and lack of healthy food options come together to create a feeling of hopelessness? Read about a pilot program in North Carolina implemented by Change Lab Solutions to match church facilities and volunteers with mobile services to deliver care right to the neighborhood. Website includes a free download, "Congregation to Community," with success stories plus answers to practical questions about things like insurance and safety. You can also access slides from a recent webinar for additional ideas.
From the CRCNA Disability Concerns Network: "Ministering with Stroke Survivors and Their Loved Ones" - Candid insights into ways churches unintentionally slight persons left with impairments following a stroke, ahd what can be done to improve. Includes links to videos of survivors sharing their stories, great tools for increasing awareness.
From PE News: Read about one church's solution to their community's health care issues in "The Right Prescription." Monroeville (PA) Assembly of God coordinates the services of volunteer physicians, pharmacists, nurses, office staff, and more to create the Sheep Inc. Health Care Center, providing quality care to the uninsured in their neighborhood and community.
Many faith communities have a paid or volunteer parish nurse to facilitate ministry such as support groups, grief recovery, wellness classes, and much more. These nurses can be coordinated through hospital networks, their denomination, or the individual church. Examples, and tips on how to start a faith community health ministry, can be found at Faith Community Nursing/Health Ministries Northwest and the Evangelical Lutheran Parish Nurse Association.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers training and information for churches who want to start a mental health ministry and host support groups. Read one church's experience in reaching out to their community through a mental health ministry in this Outreach Magazine article, "Iowa Church Launches Mental Health Ministry."
Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership - from the American Psychiatric Association. Free downloadable resources including "Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders" - This resource gives a basic overview of mental illnesses and lists links to other faith-based resources and community partnership opportunities.
Mental Health Ministries works "to erase the stigma of mental illness" and create resources to help the mentally ill find support and hope in their faith communities. Their "Creating Caring Congregations" model takes churches through five steps: education, covenant or commitment, welcome, support, and advocacy.
Mental Health Resource Guide from Saddleback Church - available in paperback as part of Saddleback's "Hope for Mental Health" kit or separately as a free download, this booklet gives an overview of various mental illnesses, FAQs, and resource list. The kit contains DVDs, sermon ideas, and more.
Fresh Hope: Living Well in spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis - Pastors who have used this book describe it as a "great resource for the faith community in their effort to serve those who struggle with a mood disorder," as well as "a philosophy of ministry for the church in partnering with the medical community." Visit www.Pastors4MentalHealth.com for free resources to use in ministry, plus information about how to start a Christ-centered Fresh Hope recovery group.
Community Conversations toolkits from SAMHSA - resources for increasing mental health awareness in the community, including a guide for faith leaders.
"How to Express Love and Support to Those with Chronic Illness" - blog post from someone who's been there. Joanna's eleven years of dealing with environmental illness have given her plenty of opportunities to define what is and isn't helpful to a suffering member of the Body of Christ.
Church Health Reader: Sharing a wealth of articles about different churches and their health-related ministries. Check out "A Community Called Home," about several ministries to help veterans find community as they deal with PTSD and other challenges.
Mental Health Grace Alliance - Training for churches to start support groups in their communities.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - "Dedicated to improving the lives of people with mental illness," NAMI's state and local chapters offer peer support groups, family support, and educational materials to help erase the stigma of dealing with mental illness. Links to state and local websites and local support.
National Association for Rural Mental Health - Professional organization to link and network rural mental health services, consumers, family members, educators, and policy makers, addressing the specific concerns and challenges of the rural environment.
From the National Council for Behavioral Health - Mental Health First Aid - Training that equips ordinary people with skills to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a problem. Different training modules available for adults and children, including Spanish modules.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Help for parents of teens struggling with depression, resources for college students, educator materials, insurance concerns, and much more, including training to become a volunteer field advocate to help educate communities about prevention.
Saving Face Saving Grace - Resources for those dealing with a diagnosis as well as training for families and church leaders.
"Stories of Grace and Truth" - From the CRCNA Disability Concerns network, beautifully-written and artistic expressions from persons coping with mental illness and their family members, showing that God's grace and truth do indeed shine through even dark and sad experiences.
LEAP Institute - Listen, Empathize, Agree, Partner - Dedicated to building strong relationships in any context, but a great resource for creating a trusting, respectful relationship with a friend or relative dealing with mental illness.
InterAct Counseling - faith-based intensive counseling, including equine therapy.
Many Celebrate Recovery resources can be helpful for those dealing with mental illness and its effects, especially for those struggling with addictions as a result of their condition.
#B4Stage4 campaign from Mental Health America works to raise early symptom awareness so treatment or intervention can happen before the situation becomes critical.
Consider hosting a SafeTalk suicide alertness training in your community. This service of LivingWorks Education, Inc. trains participants to be aware of at-risk behaviors and subtle indications of the need to talk to someone.
How does a young college graduate, working in her lifelong dream of being a missionary, handle a total collapse of health that sidelines her for years? Read Joanna's testimony of God's grace at her website, "God is Gracious," and check out her links to helpful resources.
A Missouri husband/wife photojournalist team chronicles the hope and inspiration that can be found even in the stories of the struggling: "Fallon's Story" - a young woman's journey from a "two weeks to live" prognosis to living a full and thankful life, "Danielle's Story" - lessons a 17-year-old diagnosed with colon cancer learned about facing her fears, "Brenna's Story" - a young woman shares honestly what it's like to live with anxiety attacks.
Blog: On Being A Christian with Parkinson's Disease - a variety of posts about the day-to-day challenges, questions, victories, and practicalities of life with a disease. Also see "How I Put My Faith in God Following Parkinson's" in Vital - a young woman's story of coming to terms with her diagnosis. For another perspective on Parkinson's, see "Joining the Fight," by the NBA's Brian Grant.
"A Slow Slipping Away" - The wife of celebrity Kris Kristofferson shares openly about years of battling with undiagnosed Lyme disease.
Finding Balance: "A Christian resource for daily help with eating and body image issues." Includes a blog, group curriculum, helpful articles and devotionals, and more.
Comfort Kits from Guideposts for Kids - Filled with special gifts like a soothing music CD, special name plaque, and cuddly stuffed star, these kits can help soothe children during a trip to the hospital. Individuals and churches can donate to sponsor kits or get involved in distributing them.
Pain management resources: This article from WebMD provides a comprehensive overview of many options for treating chronic pain. The Center for Disease Control also offers fact sheets and articles about current research in managing pain with appropriate prescribing to avoid accidental overdose.
From the Department of Health and Human Services: The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program - Diagnosed in 1984 after exposure to HIV from transfusions for hemophilia, Ryan courageously battled the early years of stigma, limited medical resources, and lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS. He died at age 18, leaving a legacy of advocacy, legislation, and research. Visit the site for educational resources and the latest updates on medical advances.
The reality of illness is that it impacts the patient and families in life-changing ways. How should the church respond? See blog post, "The Sick Among Us," from the Christian Reformed Church network.
Can churches increase their awareness and provide for the needs of those suffering from severe allergies and sensitivities? There are resources to help.
Eating disorder recovery - Selah House offers Christian-based help for adolescents and adults.
Follow the latest research about chronic or disabling illnesses at the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, dedicated to ethical and pro-life research.
"Making Peace with Life" - a thought-provoking testimony about coming to terms with brokenness, which everyone must do in one form or another.
"Physician-Assisted Suicide" - Blog post from the Christian Reformed Church network discusses whether this hotly debated topic allows room for a pro-life mentality and true Christian compassion.
Is it possible to find meaning in the midst of lament? A seminary philosophy professor ponders Ecclesiastes in this article from Christianity Today, "Bedeviled by My Wife's Dementia."
Media Smart Youth: What does use of media have to do with the health of children and youth? Plenty, it seems, with thousands of ads for junk food, fast food, and candy targeting 11-13-year-olds. This program from the National Institute of Health helps youth groups, after school clubs, and other organizations educate young people in the tactics used by media to get their attention, as well as teaching them to create their own production about ways to stay safe and healthy.
From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - "Multicultural Resources for Health Information," a web page devoted to helpful information for working with persons from a variety of cultural backgrounds in health discussions and helping them find the information they need. Also from HHS - "Think Cultural Health:" Free study units on basic, simple ways to empower your community to make healthy changes.