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Ministries in Mental Illness

Theological Statement

We believe that faithful Christians are called to be in ministry to individuals and their families challenged by disorders causing disturbances of thinking, feeling, and acting categorized as "mental illness." We acknowledge that throughout history and today, our ministries in this area have been hampered by lack of knowledge, fear, and misunderstanding. Even so, we believe that those so challenged, their families, and their communities are to be embraced by the church in its ministry of compassion and love.

Our model is Jesus, who calls us to an ethic of love toward all. As Jesus proclaimed the reign of God, his words and proclamations were accompanied by "healing every disease and every sickness" (Matthew 9:35). Jesus had compassion and healed those besieged by mental illness, many of whom had been despised, rejected, persecuted, and feared by their community.

John Wesley and the founders of The United Methodist Church practiced a faith grounded in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ, with a focus on healing the whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. The concern for the health of those within the ministry of the church led to establishment of medical services for those in need without regard to financial means, thereby refusing no one for any reason. That spirit of all-encompassing love and compassion serves as a legacy and a model for us as we seek to respond to those challenged by mental illness.

Today, because of the achievements of the scientific and medical communities, we know more about the causes and treatment of the many disorders considered "mental illnesses." More important, we know that the gift of healing is one of the spiritual gifts received from God. The call of those baptized in Christ includes a mandate to exercise the gift of healing by the church as evidence of God's love, a precursor to the reign of God, and a sign of the presence of God's Holy Spirit through the community of the church.

We therefore commit ourselves to learning more about the causes of mental illnesses; advocating for compassion and generosity in the treatment of mental illnesses; and prayerfully leading our congregations to be in ministry, demonstrating that our church, as the body of Christ, can work to provide the means of grace that leads to wholeness and healing for all.

Challenges Facing Persons With Mental Illness
and Their Congregations and Communities.

Mental illness is a group of brain disorders that cause disturbances of thinking, feeling, and acting. Research published since 1987 has underscored the physical and genetic basis for the more serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, manic-depression, and other affective disorders.

All aspects of health—physical, mental, and spiritual—were of equal concern to Jesus Christ, whose healing touch reached out to mend broken bodies, minds, and spirits with one common purpose: the restoration of well-being and renewed communion with God and neighbor. Many interventions are needed to heal the often chronic conditions of the brain and nervous system, known as mental illness. The body of Christ needs deeper healing in understanding, education, compassion, and adequate ways to support the families and individuals living with mental illness. Those impacted by mental illness also need to be supported in their quest for healing, knowing that most often Jesus heals over time, using a variety of healing modalities.

Precisely because mental illness affects how we think, feel or act, it has an impact on our ability to function in community with others.

There are many reasons that explain why persons with a mental illness diagnosis exhibit difficult or disruptive behaviors. The reasons include traumatic events like war; abuse or domestic violence; a life of physical or emotional poverty; deprivation of social experiences and limited social skills; and behaviors due to loneliness, being misunderstood, being powerless, or the absence of joy in their lives.

Therefore, mental illness challenge our commitment to community. We experience this challenge in several key ways:

1. Stigma

Stigma has been with us for millennia and remains a major issue today. When the man of Gadara said his name was "Legion, . . . because we are many," his comment suggests the countless individuals in every age, whose mental dysfunction causes fear, rejection, or shame, and to which we tend to respond with the same few measures no more adequate for our time than for his: stigmatization, isolation, incarceration, and restraint. Jesus embraced and healed such persons with special compassion (Mark 5:1-34).

2. Incarceration

We believe all persons with a mental illness diagnosis should have access to the same basic freedoms and human rights as other persons in a free society. A fine line of distinction exists between criminal violation of the law and behavior that is criminalized because law enforcement agencies have had no other recourse for handling persons whose actions resulted from mental illness symptoms that affect thinking, perceptions and behavior. We oppose the use of jails and prisons for incarceration of persons who have serious, persistent mental illnesses for whom treatment in a secure hospital setting is far more appropriate. Moreover, many incarcerated persons with mental illness need psychiatric medications. Citing economic reasons as the cause for failure to provide medications to a person who needs them is unacceptable, as is imposing medication compliance as a condition of release or access to treatment and other services.

3. Deinstitutionalization

We express particular concern that while the process followed in the United States and some other nations in recent years of deinstitutionalizing mental patients has corrected a longstanding problem of "warehousing" mentally ill persons, it has created new problems. Without adequate community-based mental-health programs to care for those who are dehospitalized, the streets or prisons have become a substitute for a hospital ward for too many people. Consequently, often the responsibility, including the costs of mental-health care, has simply been transferred to individuals and families or to shelters for the homeless that are already overloaded and ill-equipped to provide more than the most basic care. Furthermore, the pressure to deinstitutionalize patients rapidly has caused some mental-health systems to rely unduly upon short-term chemical therapy to control patients rather than employ treatments that research has demonstrated are successful.

4. Misunderstanding of Faith

Sometimes Christian concepts of sin and forgiveness, are inappropriately applied in ways that heighten paranoia or clinical depression. Great care must be exercised in ministering to those whose mental illness results in exaggerated self-negation. While all persons stand in need of forgiveness and reconciliation, God's love cannot be communicated through the medium of forgiveness for uncommitted or delusional sins.

The Response We Need

John Wesley's ministry was grounded in the redemptive ministry of Christ with its focus on healing that involved spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical aspects. His concern for the health of those to whom he ministered led him to create medical services at no cost to those who were poor and in deep need, refusing no one for any reason. He saw health as extending beyond simple biological well-being to wellness of the whole person. His witness of love to those in need of healing is our model for ministry to those suffering from mental illness.

1. Healing

Effective treatment recognizes the importance of medical, psychiatric, emotional, and spiritual care, psychotherapy or professional pastoral psychotherapy in regaining and maintaining health. Congregations in every community are called to participate actively in expanding care for persons who are mentally ill and their families as an expression of their nature as the body of Christ.

Treatment for mental illness recognizes the importance of a nonstressful environment, good nutrition, and an accepting community.

2. Congregations

The church, as the body of Christ, is called to a ministry of salvation in its broadest understanding, which includes both healing and reconciliation, of restoring wholeness both at the individual and community levels. We call upon the church to affirm ministries related to mental illness that embrace the role of community, family, and the healing professions in healing the physical, social, environmental, and spiritual impediments to wholeness for those afflicted with brain disorders and for their families.

We call upon local United Methodist congregations, districts, and annual or central conferences to promote United Methodist congregations as "Caring Communities." The mission to bring all persons into a community of love is central to the teachings of Christ. We gather as congregations in witness to that mission, welcoming and nurturing those who assemble with us. Yet we confess that in our humanity we have sometimes failed to minister in love to persons and families with mental illness. We have allowed barriers of ignorance, fear, and pride to separate us from those who most need our love and the nurturing support of community.

United Methodist congregations around the world are called to join the Caring Communities program, congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families. Caring Communities engage intentionally in:

• Education. Congregations engage in public discussion as well as responsible and comprehensive education about the nature of mental illness and how it affects society today. Such education not only helps congregations express their caring more effectively, but reduces the stigma of mental illness so that persons who suffer from brain disorders, and their families, can more freely ask for help. Such education also counters a false understanding that mental illness is primarily an adjustment problem caused by psychologically dysfunctional families.

• Covenant. Congregations through their church councils enter into a covenant relationship of understanding and love with persons and families with mental illness to nurture them. The covenant understanding may well extend to community and congregational involvement with patients in psychiatric hospitals and other mental-health care facilities.

• Welcome. Congregations extend a public welcome to persons with mental illness and their families.

• Support. Congregations think through and implement the best ways to be supportive to persons with mental illness and to individuals and families caring for them.

• Advocacy. Congregations not only advocate for specific individuals caught up in bureaucratic difficulties, but identify and speak out on issues affecting persons with mental illness and their families that are amenable to legislative remedy.

3. Communities
We call upon the communities in which our congregations are located to develop more adequate programs to meet the needs of their members who have mental illness and their families. This includes the need to implement governmental programs at all levels that monitor and prevent abuses of persons who have mental illness, as well as those programs intended to replace long-term hospitalization with community-based services.

Mental illness courts, properly established, regulated, and administered could and should be maintained to handle cases involving persons with serious mental illnesses. Such courts can ensure compassionate and ethical treatment. These courts are often able to avoid criminalizing behaviors that result from symptoms affecting thought, perceptions, and behavior. When governing bodies institute such courts, they should:

• understand and embrace an ethical understanding of the compassionate intent of the law in the establishment of mental-health courts when mental illness is a factor in law enforcement.

• respect all human rights of persons confined for the purpose of mental-illness treatment in an accredited psychiatric facility, either public or private, including their legal right to have input into their treatment plan, medications and access to religious support as state laws allow. We hold all treatment facilities, public and private, responsible for the protection of these rights.

Depending on the unique circumstances of each community, congregations may be able to

• support expanded counseling and crisis intervention services;

• conduct and support workshops and public awareness campaigns to combat stigmas;

• facilitate efforts to provide housing and employment for deinstitutionalized persons;

• advocate for improved training for judges, police, and other community officials in dealing with persons with mental illness and their families;

• promote more effective interaction among different systems involved in the care of persons with mental illness, including courts, police, employment, housing, welfare, religious, and family systems;

• encourage mental health treatment facilities, public and private, including outpatient treatment programs, to take seriously the religious and spiritual needs of persons with a mental illness; and

• help communities meet both preventive and therapeutic needs related to mental illness.

4. Clergy Support

We call upon the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to:

• give attention to addressing issues that arise when United Methodist clergy experience mental illness; and

• promote the development of pastoral leadership skills to understand mental illness and be able to mediate with persons in their congregations and their communities concerning the issues and needs of persons who have a mental illness.

5. Legislation

We call upon the General Board of Church and Society and other United Methodists with advocacy responsibility to:

a. advocate systemic reform of the health-care systems to provide more adequately for persons and families confronting the catastrophic expense and pain of caring for family members with mental illness;

b. support universal global access to health care, insisting that public and private funding mechanisms be developed to ensure the availability of services to all in need, including adequate coverage for mental-health services in all health programs;

c. advocate that community mental-health systems, including public clinics, hospitals, and other tax-supported facilities, be especially sensitive to the mental-health needs of culturally or racially diverse groups in the population;

d. support adequate research by public and private institutions into the causes of mental illness, including, as high priority, further development of therapeutic applications of newly discovered information on the aspect of genetic causation for several types of severe brain disorders;

e. support adequate public funding to enable mental-healthcare systems to provide appropriate therapy;

f. collaborate with the work of entities like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a US self-help organization of persons with mental illness, their families and friends, providing mutual support, education and advocacy for those persons with severe mental illness, and urging the churches to connect with NAMI's religious outreach network. We also commend to our churches globally Pathways to Promise: Interfaith Ministries and Mental Illness, St. Louis, Missouri, as a necessary link in our ministry on this critical issue; and

g. build a global United Methodist Church mental illness network at the General Board of Church and Society to coordinate mental-illness ministries in The United Methodist Church.

6. Seminaries

We call upon United Methodist seminaries around the world to provide technical training, including experience in mental-health units, as a regular part of the preparation for the ministry, in order to help leaders and congregations become more knowledgeable about and involved in mental-health needs of their communities.








See Social Principles, ¶ 162V.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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