It is Better to be Silent…

silentI read a heart-breaking post on Facebook this evening. A woman attends a church where the pastor—whose qualification consists of a seminary degree—has pulpit-shamed his congregation into abandoning their medications for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. The woman fears for her friend, who followed the pastor’s counsel and has slipped further into depression.

I cannot remain silent any longer. Churches should stay silent on the issue of mental health rather than diminish the mental health crisis by claiming that people who suffer lack faith. What kind of drivel do they teach in seminaries these days? Will pastors next pulpit-shame diabetics into discontinuing the use of their insulin? Or perhaps urge those with broken limbs to saw off their casts?

Can preachers be sued for pastoral malpractice?

I confess that I have a limited and rudimentary knowledge of mental illness. Although I suffered from depression after my husband’s stem-cell transplant, I never took antidepressants. Maybe I should have. I probably would have had fewer physical side-effects from my depression. But we DID almost lose our youngest daughter to an undiagnosed mental illness—all because of our ignorance.

We cannot stay silent any longer—cowed by those who claim we lack faith when what we really lack is education. A one-cure-fits-all does not exist for mental illnesses. God created each of us as unique individuals with incredible variety, history, and epigenetic makeup. We need to embrace the fact that what works for one patient might not work for another.

Don't be cowed by those who claim that mental illness is a lack of faith. #anxiety #depression #mentalillness #bipolar Click To Tweet

A Call for Change

The church needs to change its attitude or stay silent. That rigid ‘you’re-depressed-because-you-lack-faith’ attitude sends those who need the support and compassion of the church stumbling out the back door—never to return.

The #church needs to change its attitude about #mentalillness before they cause more harm. Click To Tweet

Maintenance of most mental illnesses requires medication—just like maintenance of most forms of diabetes requires insulin. We need to educate ourselves and train pastors to provide the support and healing that those suffering from mental illnesses need in order to have a full and meaningful relationship with God.

We DON’T need pulpit-shaming ignoramuses heaping guilt upon the lost and hurting. Jesus didn’t do that. He called the weary and heavy-burdened to him. He also didn’t promise to heal everyone’s ailments (think about Paul and the burden that Jesus never healed for him).

We don't need pulpit-shaming ignoramuses telling the mentally ill to stop their medications. #mentalhealth #suicide Click To Tweet

(She steps off her soapbox, passionate tears falling down her face—tears for all those who suffer in silence. For those who love Jesus but don’t feel safe in his house. Tears for the family members who suffer along with them. Is anyone listening?)

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  1. Oh friend, im listening!! Excuse my language but sometimes those who think they are the experts (the church, some pastors/leaders) need to shut up abd listen. You are spot on. There is no all fits one size cure. Crying holy tears with you now too. Im in the 9 spot this week.

  2. I am with you on this, Anita. In the area of PTSD, too many pastors try to ‘fix’ combat veterans with the mistaken idea that PTSD is something bad, and that the ‘victims’ WANT to become ‘normal’.

    The true issue with combat trauma is that one realizes that one will never, in the civilian world, be so awesome again. A life you fight to keep is bright and clear and flavourful, while one that’s almost a given becomes bland in the worst way.

    You don’t get ‘fixed’, and in most cases (not, sadly,mine) there’s no guilt to expunge.

    So i wish that the church would recognize that warfighters become a breed apart…and welcomes them as such, semi-tame wolves who nonetheless remain coiled, even into the white winter of age.

  3. Oh my! This sounds really heartbreaking.
    I wonder more and more how in the world we can believe we can quick fix everything by prayer. Yes, we should pray and believe, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wait and hope and use modern medicine.
    Thanks for speaking your mind!
    Katha recently posted…The Sound of SilenceMy Profile

  4. I was wondering “where” this post would go – man, lady, you hit the nail on the head. I bet said pastor takes meds for a headache or whatever…. THIS STUFF RILES ME. Good writing, Anita Ojeda.

  5. Thanks for sharing this Anita. I think the church has done a wonderful job of shaming people in many areas- including mental illness and divorce. I face judgement and condemnation from the pulpit because I am a divorced woman. I think if the church doesn’t want to love people and help them where they are, they should stay silent. Thanks for your perspective. Your neighbor today at #fmf

  6. you said it so well anita! i have had so many friends in and out of the church who were cowed by church people speaking this “you don’t have enough faith” nonsense to them! makes me furious. on one level, none of us has enough faith for anything apart from GOD. but so often this comes from people who have no clue about the agony these people are going through! i sometimes wonder if they even care. i get your fury mixed with tears! horrible!!

  7. Oh, man, that is awful! I’ve heard similar nonsense from a pastor or two. Mental health should definitely be a required course for pastors. So many of them will experience depression and anxiety too. The church needs major help with this issue overall. Thank you for sharing your emotions and thoughts, Anita.

  8. Anita, this post is spot on. Having never suffered from depression which required medication, I fear for those who would stop taking their prescriptions. As I read your post, the thought which came to me is this … It takes great faith to take the prescription and wait in hope for it to be effective. Grateful you shared your thoughts and tears with us all!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…SilenceMy Profile

  9. I had to pause and wave one hand in the air for a moment because you hit this one out of the park. I have a thick enough skin to simply not care if people judge me for taking an antidepressant, but it kills me that so many are talked out of doing what’s best because people are stupid and have no real knowledge of Scripture. I could go on about this for days… Thank you for posting this one!
    Marie recently posted…Five Minute Friday: SilenceMy Profile

  10. Oh, Anita, this is so powerful! It’s a much needed message that the church at large needs to hear. Blessings to you for having the courage to speak out in love! xo

  11. I took antidepressants for several years after my daughter passed away. I no longer need them, but they did help, along with God’s people coming alongside and His binding my wounds. Any pastor who shames the congregation is wrong.

  12. Oh my goodness Anita, I am so glad to be here for the first time and to join your link up. I wholeheartedly agree with your article and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “You just need to have enough faith,” preached at my husband, who has degenerative issues with his feet. We pray for healing, he desires healing, he has sought healing in so many ways, and what this preaching has led to is his hiding the fact that he has a problem from anyone that might once again want to lay hands on him and command his feet to be well. Ugh! It is frustrating and hurtful, and it has caused us to leave at least two churches in our search for a church family in our new community.

    And then the issue of mental illnesses and the stopping of medications? We too have a daughter we almost lost due to a mental illness and that is just plain dangerous. You probably know Dr. Michelle Bengtson. In her book, Hope Prevails, Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression, she gives spiritual steps to overcoming depression – Scripture, praise and worship, etc. – but she never says to just quit taking medications prescribed by your doctor.

    I’m right here with you girlfriend and thankful for your words today.


  13. As a pastor’s wife and one who also obtained a seminary degree, I have to say that not all seminaries teach these kinds of dangerous views on depression, Anita. And my church does not take this kind of stand at all, but always encourages those with mental illnesses to get the medical help they need.

    But, with that said, it truly is a travesty when there are so many other churches and pastors who choose to view depression and other mental disorders from this angle! Just as the sexual harassment of so many is coming out, there needs to be a serious look the way Christian leaders are leading in the area of mental health. So I’m glad you sounded the alarm, Anita! It is horrifying that this pastor you mentioned is shaming those who have a disease that cannot be seen with the naked eye. We need to take a stand or this kind of dangerous shaming will continue unabated.
    Beth recently posted…Comment on What I Learned About Myself by Doing an ‘Argument Autopsy’ by ValerieMy Profile

  14. I hope that I didn’t overgeneralize or hurt anyone’s feelings! It’s good that your church/denomination has a healthy view on mental illnesses. Unfortunately, there are still many people out there being hurt by pulpit-shaming as well as uneducated parishioners.

    I confess that my own lack of knowledge about basic mental illness issues prevented me from understanding that our daughter was in the midst of a mental illness crisis. In my frustration at trying to communicate with her, I used all of the pat answers such as, “Pray more. Surround yourself with scriptures. Choose joy.” If only I would have known that she had a serious mental illness and wasn’t just feeling down! (I did urge her to see a counselor, but they missed the diagnosis, too).
    Anita Ojeda recently posted…A Caregiver You Know Might Need This BookMy Profile

  15. My goodness, this makes my blood boil and breaks my heart. Not what you said, but what the pastor said. Apparently, my pastor put “depression” into a list of sins once, and said this from the pulpit, which really distressed a woman dealing with it. I missed that sermon, but when I heard about it, it angered me enough to write a huge post on it – at I will put a link in the link-ups below, too. It’s good you are calling out the church on this. It adds to the problem instead of helping at all. (And I would have used stronger language than “ignoramus,” and I wouldn’t have felt bad about it.) This is going to be a huge problem in the future if the church doesn’t change – because according to a recent article, depression will be the biggest “health issue” facing us in the next so-many years. God-willing, pastors (and other ignoramus Christians) can start helping and healing, instead of shaming people and compounding the pain. Thank you for your boldness.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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