In the wake of Covid-19, the erosion of good emotional wellbeing is at an all-time high.
Church leaders have to grapple with the three monsters of poor mental health, depression, and suicidal thoughts daily. I cannot begin to imagine how Christian leaders cope with the number of members who signal the need for help weekly.
To start with, church leaders, for the most part, are not trained psychologists or psychiatrists and thus ill-skilled to deal with these situations conventionally. Nonetheless, they are meant to be equipped to provide spiritual healing and succor to those in distress, especially at times of difficulties like the current pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released alarming reports recently. One of the reports affirms that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. Suicide was responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in 2018. Also, 10.7 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.3 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted suicide resulting in about one death every 11 minutes in 2018 alone. Furthermore, it says suicide “is the second leading cause of death for people 55 to 64 years of age.”
A separate report discovered that 40% of US adults struggle with mental health or substance abuse.
These findings are depressing, to say the least. A lot of people are in pain and silently too. These are spiritual maladies orchestrated by Satan to destabilize God’s kingdom and so, they have to be fought in the spiritual and physical realms.
As a church leader, if you haven’t done so already, study the disease that leads to mental health, depression, and suicidal thoughts. While prayers are essential, a grounded knowledge and understanding of the causes will help you deploy empathy and prepare targeted prayers. Below are seven other ways you can help.
- Identify volunteers or professional Counsellors in the community trained to deal with mental health issues. Have their contact information handy and publicize as needed. Provide a listening ear to those struggling with the disease, especially at the early stages. Catching the ailment early could help steer sufferers from life-threatening thoughts. It has been established that people who take their lives do not feel life is worthwhile. This feeling starts small and progresses over time.
- Be patient and not be judgmental. Sufferers do not want to be judged. They want someone neutral in thinking and who will listen to them over a while. To a great extent, it helps unravel the root causes, which in turn enables one to apply the right remedies.
- Create confidence in your followers. As a church leader, members want to be confident in your ability to read situations and speak authoritatively to the issues. They also want to have trust in you. Meaning, they do not want their story out there. Some preachers have been known to use people’s afflictions as examples while preaching or counseling others. This is a turnoff and a reason why a good number of sufferers struggle in silence.
- Giving the revelations in the CDC reports, in your sermons over the year, prepare regular messages or short ministrations around this difficulty. It is easy to make reference to the ailment once or twice a year and move on. It is not enough. People get into this mind frame regularly, so attention to it from the pulpit should be more frequent. The month of May is considered Mental Health Awareness Month and your church can ride on the publicity it brings to create further awareness with the church community. Depression is real and has a broad range in terms of manifestation and intensity. Regular mention is, therefore, essential.
- Reorient church leaders in less developed countries. In less developed countries, mental illness exists, but it is still viewed purely as a spiritual affliction brought about by wickedness and witchcraft. Victims are often stigmatized and alienated from mainstream activities. Churches that have parishes overseas should educate the leaders on the need to approach the ailment with a different mindset and spiritual lens.
- Sometimes sufferers are in denial and refuse to accept treatment in the conventional sense. This is a delicate situation and the ability to navigate this scenario and encourage them to go for treatment takes wisdom and tact. The ability to deploy this gift is key to people accepting conventional treatment and saving lives.
- Prayer is still the most potent weapon in spiritual warfare. There is absolutely nothing God cannot reverse through fervent prayer. Continually pray with those in this challenging situation. Several materials in the public domain deal with treatment and those who have recovered. As you pray for them, provide these resources to show that there is healing and people have been turned around by the Almighty God’s power. It helps them hold on to something tangible and more importantly, increase their faith and hope.
If someone is in a life-threatening situation or immediate danger, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).