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Be kind to those in your church living with mental illness and mental health challenges

by Chris Summerville

I write as a person with lived experience, as a former pastor who has struggled with dark periods of depression, suicidal ideation and the misuse of alcohol. Mental health problems are generational in the Summerville family. I grew up in rural Alabama with a father who also struggled with all three and more, before he took his life by suicide, even after he experienced a genuine and authentic spiritual salvation.

While accepting the forgiveness of God and his family, he could not forgive himself for the horrors he had created for his wife and seven children.

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and a national leader across Canada within the mental health recovery movement.

As an evangelical pastor I addressed issues of social justice, environmental (creation) care, and mental health problems even back in the 80s and 90s. So after working the last 22 years in the mental health recovery movement, what wisdom would I share with pastors?

1) Christians, just as they are not immune to physical health problems, are not immune to mental illness and mental health problems in this fallen world. One in five Canadians presently live with a mental illness. Obviously, many of these Canadians are followers of Christ. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Mental health problems can also be caused by adverse childhood experiences (trauma) which I experienced. All Christians have mental health concerns from time to time. Mental illnesses generally create a disorder in your life, and for that reason are called mental disorders by psychiatry. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They can be temporary, intermittent, or enduring. But they are treatable.
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