Mental Health has been much in the news recently, partly as a result of the initiative of the young Royals. This raises the question of what contribution Churches and other religious organisations can make to mental health.
Theos, the admirable think tank on Church and Society, recently published a report on Christianity and Mental Health, written by Ben Ryan.
I recently contributed a blog myself on the Theos site, on spiritual aspects of depression. While I would never wish depression on anyone, I suggest that a spiritual perspective is better able to see that, despite the misery, depression can have some value. It can give people more honesty, depth and resilience. This is what Christianity is typically about. It never welcomes adversity, but it is committed to bringing good out of it, and has resources to help to do that.
In his report, Ben Ryan notes that churches are working increasingly in the mental health area, and are developing a growing number of mental health projects. But the interesting thing is that, generally, they are just providing the help that any charity might provide. They are not trying to do anything distinctive. There is Christian motivation, but little distinctive Christian contribution.
I would like to see a both/and approach to this. It is good that what churches are doing is not narrowly Christian, in the sense of excluding anything that is not distinctively religious. Good listening and sensible advice are always the bedrock of any mental health work.
But the churches have something distinctive to give as well. It should be offered, rather than imposed, so that people don’t feel coerced into religion. But I think it is a mistake for the churches to under-value their distinctive contribution.
Prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices are a powerful tool of transformation, and can be a big help in the mental health area. Forgiveness is another powerful too for the transformation of relationships. There are also distinctive values and attitudes. Christianity fosters a spirit of acceptance that can bear adversity without railing against it. It also fosters a resilient kind of hope that is not defeated by adversity.
If Christians had more confidence in their distinctive contribution, they could give more effective help to people with mental health problems.