As we begin to look at the issues in the world, we see that many things going on in people’s lives may be the result of mental illness. We see the need the address the issue in this country more. Where at one time we considered only the result of an action, now we have been addressing the root of the problem. The root of many problems in this country has been the lack of addressing the issue of mental illness. Even with the acknowledgement of mental illness the black community and the black church is far behind in dealing with the subject of mental illness. It is still very much stigmatized within our community. We continue to sit around talking about are crazy uncle that we must make sure we watch but don’t accept him getting the mental health treatment he needs. Much of this is because we do not want to let our family business out. The church is even worse at times then the community at large because the lack of sound theological education. The church is not able to deal with the sacred and secular due to lack of proper understanding of the sacred text and how it is utilized in real life situations. The church fails to understand that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein. Everything belongs to God including science that God allowed to be created. Mental healthcare is included too!
The black church has the responsibility to be out in the forefront of aiding the black community in first accepting the problem and then continuing with moving forward and seeking the resources to help the community. As a chaplain I have served patients dealing with mental illness as well as other health issues. The biggest challenge I had were with the pastors that could not even admit they were in pain. I witnessed a pastor who did not even tell his parishioners that he was going for treatment, stating that he was fine but as he walked across the room he was wincing in pain. His issue was not in dealing directly with mental illness but his lack of being able to admit was a problem is magnified when we look at how he processed his condition.
We need more pastors like myself that are willing to be the sacrificial lamb and acknowledge issues that I have and have received help for. I have battled depression for as long as I can remember. I also have been diagnosed with ADD and OCD and have a minor learning disability. I recall telling a church mother once about my ADD and I was told not to claim that. In the culture of the black church, we think claiming things is accepting a death sentence. In relation to my ADD once I claimed it and learned about my learning disability, I was able to seek help and change some things along with medication and I was able to continue to grow.
Through understanding the church can learn to balance the science with the sacred and learn how they can work together to minister to our people. I walk people through issues in their lives by first giving them the freedom to admit they have a problem without fear of persecution from the church. I’ve literally asked patients and family members how they were dealing with the cards they have been dealt. After the church answers I would ask them how do you really feel? After the second church answers I would share my story a bit. First thing I would say is that I am a Pastor and I have dealt with this issue, and I am receiving treatment for it. They would give me a stunned look, like you are really admitting this to us. Yes, I am.
So much damage has been sustained by our people by not have the power to state what is going on in our lives. Once again, we have said claiming it is a death sentence. Truth be told denying the existence of a problem is the death sentence. In bodily and mental health leaving that figurative and literal cancer there to grow will grow to death or it will incapacitate you. We must claim our sickness so we can claim our healing.
Much work is left to be done in the black community and the church. We must start somewhere. We need counselors and doctors that look like us to take the stigma away. We need honest, educated leaders in the church with theological and secular education with the willingness to blend the secular and sacred without fear of diminishing either area. We must let the people know it is ok to not be ok if you come to the church while seeking mental health treatment and be loved just the same.
Leaders in the African American community and churches must step up, at least for the dialogue concerning mental health issues in our people. Many leaders like myself have battled silently because of the lack of support and the stigma that comes with mental health issues. Through proper biblical understanding as well as the study of medical and mental science, I have learned that there is no conflict between the two. With an open mind they complement each other.