Approximately one in four adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness—and pastors and church leaders are not exempt from this statistic. With this prevalence among the population, it’s more important than ever to normalize conversations surrounding mental health and eliminate the associated stigma, especially in the church.
That’s why the Reformed Church in America (RCA) is now providing churches and classes with access to mental health consultants. As part of a pilot project through RCA Disability Concerns, eight regional mental health consultants are now available in half of the denomination’s regional synods: Albany, the Heartland, the Mid-Atlantics, and New York.
The consultants are available to help in a variety of ways: planning and leading education and training events, consulting with church leaders to start or deepen mental health-related ministries, increasing congregations’ understanding around mental health, and guiding pastors to respond well to people facing mental health challenges.
Terry DeYoung, coordinator for RCA Disability Concerns, defines mental illness, in its many forms, as “disturbances that interfere with daily functioning—in work, school, community—and contribute to problems in relationships. Although a majority of people can continue functioning for a while, if they go untreated, they can become much worse. Many others have a diagnosis that requires ongoing medication or self-care practices.”
He explains that few people seek help because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
“Our church community could be a place of support, but the level of stigma in the church is no better than anywhere else. In fact, often it’s even more severe. … There’s a lot of misinformation, bad theology, and gossip that happens in the church. Or there’s a lot of silence.”
The goal of this pilot is to enable churches to be safe and supportive communities rather than silent ones, to welcome and include the full body of Christ, in sickness and in health.
“Research confirms the positive impact that support and friendship have upon the life of someone living with a mental illness,” says DeYoung.
The idea of regional mental health consultants evolved over time, partly in response to feedback from churches, questions from church leaders, and the desire to develop and identify leaders who can resource churches. If the pilot goes well, RCA Disability Concerns will reach out to the other regional synods, too.
“Mental health and spirituality go hand in hand,” writes Lynn Min, one of the consultants. “My last seven years in private practice have been devoted to creating spaces where individuals, couples, and families can be radically honest, shed some light into their hearts, and connect with God to experience the healing and freedom they need.”
The eight regional consultants are RCA members—four of whom are ordained ministers—as well as trained and experienced mental health professionals with varying specialties. Their profiles and statements are available on an introductory webpage.
To learn more about how your church or a group of churches could benefit from the services of an RCA mental health consultant—through a presentation to your church leaders, a special event, an education class, or other possibilities geared for your church or group—contact Terry DeYoung, RCA coordinator for Disability Concerns (email@example.com or 616-541-0855).