Wholly Healthy: Tackling a Mental Health Crisis

America is in the grips of a true mental health crisis.

Depression and anxiety are epidemic in young and old alike. No matter how many medications the medical community prescribes, these diseases seem to increase in prevalence. People with more intense mental health afflictions like schizophrenia frequently have few available resources. Mental health clinics are often understaffed or closed because of increased demand and decreased budgets (and because it’s hard work with high burnout).

Furthermore, many of those with the worst difficulties cannot keep jobs, and thus — short of obtaining disability — struggle to pay for visits to physicians and clinics, not to mention the fact that they can’t afford their prescriptions.

The truth of this tragic phenomenon is played out every day in emergency departments, often the only place the mentally ill can access easily. Unfortunately, once there, they often wait days or weeks to be hospitalized as inpatients and to be stabilized (if only for a short time).

What’s behind all of this? It’s a complex problem, and it’s hard to say exactly what factors have contributed most. But there are a few possibilities. It seems very likely that much of the anxiety and depression in the world is a function of family instability and personal trauma. Drugs and alcohol contribute to a vast amount of the emotional troubles that plague the world. Certainly the addicted suffer from their condition, but their loved ones are also harmed on many levels by the substance abuse of parents, children, spouses and friends.

Also, we really have no idea how many men and women were neglected or abandoned (actually or essentially) as children. We also have no idea at all how many people, infants to seniors, are abused physically, sexually, verbally and emotionally. The wounds run deep in those all around us.

The thing is, the medical establishment can do a lot. Certainly, professional help and special medications are often necessary for the actively suicidal, the psychotic, the dangerous sociopath and others with profound issues.

However, pills do little to treat the loneliness, guilt, fear and shame that are so deeply embedded in the emotional trauma of our populace, so deeply embedded in our human hearts. Perhaps the church needs to focus on this more powerfully. I wonder how many issues would be treated if churches simply had one or two days a week where snacks were available and people were invited just to come and talk. Just to talk about the pain. Just to talk about the fear. And to be soothed with the love and words of Christ.

A vast mission field lies before us. It is a hard one. Easy fixes are few. But it calls for the love and compassion of churches and church members. And it requires counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists to go into communities — either professionally or as volunteers — and ease the emotional (and ultimately, spiritual) pain that is certainly, if anything, a ‘10 out of 10’ on the pain scale.

Sheep without a shepherd, indeed!