Faith communities can help erase stigma of mental illness

By the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder

The beginning of a new year finds many taking stock of their lives, making resolutions for change and setting goals. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, suggests that a shift toward extrinsic goals — those having to do with material reward or other people’s judgement — from more intrinsic goals — those having to do with one’s own development and finding meaning — could be related to feeling a loss of control. This shift may be one reason Americans are so anxious.

Nearly one in five of us — 18 percent — has an anxiety disorder. We spend over $2 billion a year on anti-anxiety medications. College students are often described as more stressed than ever before. Anxiety in children is also on the rise. Faith communities are one place to lift up the intrinsic goals of finding meaning, worth and purpose through the shared values of a caring community.

Anxiety can make people feel as if no one cares and that there is no way forward. This may cause people to retreat from social situations and from their faith. One of the greatest difficulties for those with anxiety is seeing the future as positive. A faith community can offer a vision of hope and assurance that the individual is not alone. Congregations can offer a safe, welcoming and accepting community with people who care and will listen without judgment, while prayer, meditation and mindfulness can help persons calm their breathing and center their bodies in the present.

New resources from Mental Health Ministries — including a brochure and videos — will help congregations learn about various types of anxiety disorders and how to better meet the needs of those who live with these conditions.

The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder is coordinator of Mental Health Ministries, a nonprofit outreach that creates resources to erase the stigma of mental illness in faith communities.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.